BCAC thrilled with plans for extended breast screening

The Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) is thrilled to see a proposed extension of the upper age for free breast screening from 69 to 74-years-old in the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement.

The move is one of the key details for health outlined in the coalition agreement. At the moment, BreastScreen Aotearoa only offers free breast screening to women between the ages of 45 and 69.

BCAC chair, Libby Burgess, says she’s over-the-moon to see a concrete plan to extend screening to women older than 69.

“We’ve been lobbying for the upper age limit for free screening to be increased for years and it’s brilliant to see this new Government taking immediate action on this matter.

“The risk of developing breast cancer doesn’t disappear when you hit 70, in fact it increases. It’s vital that older New Zealand women have easy and free access to mammograms to ensure that breast cancer can be found and treated early,” Ms Burgess says.

Ms Burgess says around 700 women over the age of 70 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and that extending the screening age will lead to more older women getting potentially life-saving treatment because their breast cancer was found early due to a mammogram.

She says figures from the Auckland Breast Cancer Register show that older women whose cancers were found on a mammogram had a 55 per cent lower risk of dying of breast cancer than women who found a lump or other symptom.

“It’s simple. Mammograms will help to save older women’s lives. We have an aging population and extending the screening age shows that we value our older women and gives them the best chance to beat breast cancer by finding it early through a mammogram,” Ms Burgess says.

BCAC says the proposed change also brings New Zealand into line with the free breast screening programme in Australia which offers mammograms to women until 74 years of age.

Ms Burgess says BCAC notes that the coalition agreement stipulates the screening age will be extended progressively.  She says BCAC will be monitoring changes closely to make sure this happens.



25 Oct 2017

Information on breast cancer in New Zealand women over 70:

  • The greatest risk factor for getting breast cancer is getting older. Women should be aware that their risk increases with age and to seek medical attention at the first sign of any change in their breasts. You’re never too old to get breast cancer.
  • Ministry of Health statistics for 2010 show that nearly 700 women aged 70 and over will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  That’s around a quarter of all breast cancer cases.
  • Women over 70 diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease. Although around a quarter of all diagnoses of breast cancer are in women 70 and over, more than 40 per cent of all deaths from breast cancer are in women in this age group.
  • Research from the UK[i] shows that older women are not as aware of all of the symptoms of breast cancer. Many know to look for lumps, but do not know to monitor their breasts for other changes, such as changes in the skin like dimpling or redness, changes in breast shape or size, changes in the nipples such as inverted nipples or a discharge as well as breast pain. 
  • Research from the UK[ii] shows that older women are also more likely to delay seeking medical help for any breast changes. A delay in seeking appropriate medical help is associated with lower survival so it’s crucial that older women see their GP as soon as they notice any kind of breast change.



[i] Linsell L, Burgess CC and Ramirez AJ. Breast cancer awareness among older women. Br J Cancer. 2008 October 21; 99(8): 1221–1225.


[ii] Ramirez AJ, Westcombe AM, Burgess CC, Sutton S, Littlejohns P, Richards MA. Factors predicting delayed presentation of symptomatic breast cancer: a systematic review. Lancet. 1999 Apr 3;353(9159):1127-31



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