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Women warned as breast screen rates fall

Australian women are being warned against complacency when it comes to breast cancer amid a fall in screening rates.

New figures reveal the number of women aged 50–69 attending their free mammogram every two years has been in decline since the last national campaign in 2001–02, when the screening rate hit 57.6 per cent.

By 2013–14, it had fallen to 53.7 per cent, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show.

Screening rates for women aged 40 and over have also fallen dramatically since hitting 37.8 per cent in 2001–02, but made a slight recovery in 2013–14.

The health minister, Sussan Ley, said the figures were concerning, and urged all women to ensure they were up to date with their screens. Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths among Australian women, but 90 per cent of cases could be treated successfully if detected early, she said.

"The more Australian women who are screened, the more cancers that are detected – it could literally save your life," Ley said.

On a positive note, there has been a sharp rise in the number of women aged 70–74 getting screened. Ley said that number as likely to grow even further since women of that age group started being invited to attend screenings last year, potentially detecting an extra 600 cancers a year.

She said the expanded services were part of the federal government's $56 million national campaign to improve awareness and boost screening rates.

Women aged 40–49 and 75 and over are also eligible for free mammograms but they don't receive a written invitation.

Cancer Council Australia has also raised concerns about the level of breast cancer screening among this age group, as well as the rate of bowel cancer screening.

Click below to hear from Paul Grogan, director of public policy and advocacy at the Cancer Council.

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