Breast cancer screening methods and diagnosis
If you make an appointment with BreastScreen Victoria, you are participating in a screening program.
Our screening program method
Our free breast screening program uses 2D mammography. A mammogram is a low-energy x-ray of the breast tissue that provides a two-view, digital image of each breast. It can detect cancer even when it is too small to see or feel, and has no other signs or symptoms.
General queries about breast screening methods include:
- How does breast density affect screening?
- What is the level of radiation delivered?
- What is over diagnosis?
Sometimes, a mammogram reveals a possible abnormality but cannot provide enough information to give you a final result. So, you may be asked to come back for more tests. Our results and follow-up page has more details about what you can expect.
Other diagnostic methods
Although 2D mammography offers the best way to detect breast cancer early, if you have breast symptoms, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor may review your situation and recommend another diagnostic method.
- Clinical examination – A health care professional performs a physical examination by feeling the breasts.
- Diagnostic mammography – Diagnostic mammography is used to investigate clinical breast symptoms and for screening women at increased risk of breast cancer. A doctor’s referral is required. The basic mammogram is the same as the screening mammogram, however in a diagnostic mammogram, the radiologist can specifically tailor the examination to the patient’s needs, e.g. perform extra views of an area of concern.
- Ultrasound – An ultrasound is a scan that uses soundwaves to create a detailed picture of the breast. It is used to further investigate breast symptoms or possible abnormalities in either a screening or diagnostic mammogram.
- Tomosynthesis – Also known as three-dimensional mammography, tomosynthesis takes x-rays of the breast from different angles and creates a 3D image. This is not available for screening at BreastScreen Victoria and is currently being investigated in the Australian screening setting. It is available at some BreastScreen Victoria assessment services and in many diagnostic imaging services.
- MRI scan – A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan uses a large magnet, radio waves and an advanced computer to create detailed pictures of the breast tissue. It is not a standard test and is mainly used in specialist breast or imaging centres to screen people who are at a high risk of breast cancer or to provide more information in women with breast cancer either before or after treatment.
- Needle biopsy – Usually guided by imaging, during a biopsy, a small sample of tissue or cells is removed from your breast and examined under a microscope by a specialist doctor called a pathologist.
- Thermography –This technique, also known as thermal breast imaging, produces “heat pictures” of the breast. Studies have shown that a tumour has to be large (several centimetres in diameter) before it can be detected by thermography. So, thermography is NOT recommended for the early detection of breast cancer or in the investigation of any breast symptoms.
- Download the PDF information sheet About your Assessment Service visit
- Download the PDF information sheet What is the difference between a screening and a diagnostic mammogram
- BreastScreen Australia's Policy on screening versus diagnostic mammography
- BreastScreen Australia's Statement on use of thermography to detect breast cancer
- Position Statement on the use of Tomosynthesis within BreastScreen Australia services
- The Australian Government's Population Based Screening Framework
- RANZCR's Policy on Use of Thermography to Detect Breast Cancer