Cruel Wait Not Breast Practice

  • Robyn Riley
  • From: Sunday Herald Sun
  • April 11, 2010 12:00AM

I AM no doctor, but as someone who was a medical writer for many years, I consider myself reasonably well informed on medical matters.

But I did not know that BreastScreen Australia provided a screening mammogram only – not a diagnostic mammogram.

There is a big difference, as I found out last week.

A screening mammogram is only for women who do not present with symptoms. So the first thing to remember is that anyone with symptoms – and that can be anything from a lump to a discharge or even changes in colour – should not use the free BreastScreen program.

They should have a GP refer them for a diagnostic mammogram.

Why? Because it can save you several weeks of worrying. A diagnostic mammogram is also more specific and the results can be returned within a day.

I had a mammogram at BreastScreen almost a month ago. I still do not have the results in writing and I am not alone.

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When I questioned the long delay I was told there was a technical problem and this meant no one on that day – and I guess we are talking about hundreds of patients – had received results. Does that make me feel better? No bloody way.

When I filled out the consent form I was asked about symptoms. I had a symptom and recorded it as instructed.

After reading through the review of BreastScreen Australia – a taxpayer-funded service that receives more than $100 million a year – I discovered it is policy that women with symptoms are discouraged from attending.

Nobody told me – neither when I made the booking nor when I attended the service.

Tennis great Martina Navratilova revealed during the week she has breast cancer and urged women to have mammograms.

It is the right thing to do, but we cannot accept a delay of a month or more in getting results to women. The concept of a free screening service is fantastic and I understand how well-regarded it is by many, but no woman should be asked to wait so long to learn whether she may have cancer.

Best-practice medicine is no good if the bureaucracy that supports it is not best practice as well.

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