19th JULY 2002

"Currently in NZ, 1500 new breast cancers are diagnosed annually with 1/3 of these women

being under the age of 50.

In NZ there has been a lot of talk about the screening mammography of women in the 40 - 50

age group from many uninformed people suggesting that it is not worth doing because the 

breast tissue is dense and cancers can be missed.

International literature now tells us that small breast cancers can be detected with equal 

sensitivity and accuracy as in the 50+ age group but because of the increased breast tissue

density, more films and an ultrasound scan may be required as well.  Once again it comes

down to economics.  To screen women in the 40 - 50 group would cost approx. 4 X what the 

screening program costs now and the Govt is simply not interested.  One of the main reasons

for this large increase in the cost is that women in the 40-50 age group need to be screened

annually not every two years.  This is because in peri menopausal women, women who are

approaching menopause, there is a large hormonal effect on tumour growth.  That means that

tumours grow faster.


It has also been suggested that only high risk women in the 40-50 age group should be

screened.  If this happened, 77% of the breast cancers that could be diagnosed early would be

missed because most breast cancers occur in women without specific risk factors.  Remember

your biggest risk factor is just being a woman!


It is also commonly believed that if you don't have a family history of breast cancer then you

won't get it.  Sorry to give you the bad news, but only 5-10% of breast cancers occur in

women who do have family histories.


As I'm sure you are all aware, the risk for breast cancer increases gradually throughout life.

On in twelve women will develop best cancer during their lifetime, and up to a 1/3 of

these will die because their cancer was not detected early enough.

Many of these cancers can be detected by having annual mammography which may show

cancers when they are small, cannot be felt and before they become life threatening.


Using mammography alone will not detect all cancers particularly in very dense breast tissue,

but when used in conjunction with an ultrasound scan performed by a breast imaging

specialist, most of the small cancers will be found and by doing so, many lives could be



The Americans are taking note of the latest research into screening the 40-50 yr old women.

Earlier this year the National Cancer Institute of America and the US Preventative Services

Task Force investigated and evaluated much of this research on breast cancer and produced

guidelines that are very clear.  All women should have an annual mammogram from the age

of 40.

Recent data from modern screening [programmes that include women from 40 are reporting

35-45% reductions in the death rates in women in the 40-50 age range.  These rates are the

same as in the publicly screened group of 50-64 years.


At Medex we run a private type of screening programme where we offer women the option of

being recalled every year.

We offer a fully comprehensive service that includes one of our specialist breast radiologists

reviewing your films, performing an ultrasound if required and where necessary going on to

perform a biopsy.  This all takes place at one visit and although this may be daunting at the

time, the results from biopsies are back from the lab 48 hours later.  No more waiting around

for days and days.


So please if you have a lump, go to your Doctor and have it checked out.  Most lumps are

NOT cancer but of the ones that are, when they are caught early may not end up being life



We all know breast cancer happens and it is not fair for the women or for the many people that

are affected by it, but we are trying to move the goal posts and in doing so saving lives."