Your risk of breast cancer begins to increase in your 40s, so it’s time to consider screening mammograms. Breast cancers also tend to grow faster in younger women, so it’s important to be aware of any new breast changes.
Consider starting mammograms at 40
BCFNZ recommends women consider starting mammograms at 40. You’re not eligible for free mammograms until age 45, so you’d need to pay for them yourself at a private radiology clinic. The cost could range from $150 – $200, so it pays to shop around to find the best price.
How often should I have a mammogram?
- Breast cancers tend to grow more quickly in this age group, compared with older women, so we recommend having mammograms every year until age 50.
- From 45 to 50 you can alternate each year between BreastScreen Aotearoa’s free mammogram service and paying for mammograms privately.
- From 50, if you’re not at high risk of breast cancer, you can continue with two-yearly mammograms
How do I enrol in BreastScreen Aotearoa’s free screening programme?
From age 45 – 69 (soon to be "progressively increased" to 74), you can have a free mammogram, once every two years, through BreastScreen Aotearoa. The service is available in centres around New Zealand. BreastScreen Aotearoa also has a mobile screening unit, which travels to smaller towns throughout the year.
Once you turn 45 you will need to register for this service by phoning 0800 270 200 or register online. Once you’ve had your first mammogram, Breastscreen Aotearoa will send you a reminder every two years so make sure you notify them if you change address.
Be breast aware
Even if you’re having regular mammograms, it’s still very important to check your breasts regularly. Once you’re aware of what your breasts normally look and feel like, it’s easier to spot any unusual changes. The best time to check is after your period, after any tenderness or swelling has settled down. If you see anything abnormal, show your doctor immediately.
While most breast cancers are detected either on a screening mammogram, or when a lump is felt in the breast, it’s still important to be aware of other signs which may indicate cancer.
At all ages, it’s important to adopt healthy lifestyle habits to help reduce your risk of breast cancer:
- Be active. Regular exercise is associated with a decrease in the lifetime risk of breast cancer. Read the World Health Organisation’s exercise recommendations.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of breast cancer after the menopause so it’s important to adopt and maintain healthy eating patterns. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and stay away from junk food or make it only an occasional treat.
- Limit alcohol. Alcoholic drinks raise the levels of oestrogen in the body and contribute to breast cancer risk.
Understand your family history
Talk with your family members about cancer on both sides of your family. While the risk of inherited breast cancer is low, talk about it with your doctor if there is breast cancer in your family.
Learn more about your personal risk.
If you are potentially at high risk, you may be eligible for genetic testing with Genetic Health Service NZ. Women at high risk are also eligible for publicly- funded breast screening. These interventions require a referral from your GP.