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Early detection can increase by nearly 50 per cent the likelihood of surviving breast cancer.

The National Health and Medical Research Council has endorsed a Statement on Breast Cancer and Mammography prepared by its Medicine Advisory Committee which pointed out that cancer of the breast was the most frequent cancer in women. In fact, one in 20 Australian women would develop breast cancer.

However, while the general chance of survival for five years was 65 per cent, if the cancer was small - less than two centimetres - when diagnosed, the survival rate rose to 90 per cent.

The Council advocates screening by breast self examination, examination by a medical practitioner and by appropriate use of mammography.

All women should be taught breast self-examination in early adult life and encouraged to examine themselves each month. They should consult their doctor if they detect any abnormality, but should be aware that in most cases the abnormality will not be serious.

If there is any abnormality, however, the doctor should then check the breasts at least every three years for women aged between 25 and 35 and every year for women over 35.

The Medicine Advisory Committee identified women at increased risk of breast cancer. These groups include those who already have had cancer in one breast, those with a family history of breast cancer, women with very large breasts, women whose breasts are difficult to examine and those whose breasts are highly nodular.

Altogether these higher risk groups represent less than 50 per cent of all women, although the risk of cancer generally increases for those over 40.

Those women in the identified groups at increased risk should have a mammogram each year after 30.

The Committee recommended that all women should have a mammogram initially at 40 and then every three to five years. The Council recognised that, while recognising that there would be a significant number of negative results, the benefits of

early detection outweighed other considerations.

Andrew Charlton July 6, 1984

Public Information Officer (NH & MRC) Canberra (062) 898949.