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Breast screening

Breast cancer is New Zealand’s third most common cancer and accounts for more than 600 deaths every year.

A screening mammogram is the best method for the early detection of unsuspected breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer, in other words, ‘well’ women. Breast cancer is highly treatable if detected early, so start having mammograms at 40 and act on changes at any age.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women affecting up to 1 in 7 women over their lifetime. The purpose of the screening programme is to:

  • find cancer early and so women have a better chance of beating it
  • reduce the number of women who die from breast cancer.

BreastScreen Aotearoa is a free national breast screening programme for NZ women aged 45–70 years of age that checks women for signs of early breast cancer.

In New Zealand, you can have a free screening mammogram every two years through BreastScreen Aotearoa if you:

  • are aged 45-69 years
  • have no symptoms of breast cancer
  • have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months
  • are not pregnant or breastfeeding
  • are eligible for public health services in New Zealand.

If you meet the criteria above and have had breast cancer, you can re-enter BreastScreen Aotearoa five years from when your cancer was found.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is a breast x-ray. It can show changes and abnormalities in your breasts before anything can be seen or felt.

It is the best available test to detect small cancers at an early stage when there is a very good chance of successful treatment.

  • Screening mammograms cannot prevent development of breast cancer, but are thought to reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer by approximately a third.
  • Mammograms are most useful in women 50 years and over if done every two years.
  • They can detect about 75% of unsuspected cancers in women under 50 and 85% in women over 50.
  • Mammograms are safe because only very small amounts of radiation are used in two-yearly screenings.

Signs to watch for

If you notice any breast symptoms (changes that are not normal for you), see your doctor as soon as possible. Do not wait for your mammogram to have this problem checked.

Possible signs of breast cancer are:

  • a new lump or thickening
  • a change in breast shape or size
  • pain in the breast that is unusual
  • puckering or dimpling of the skin
  • any change in one nipple, such as 
  • a turned-in nipple, 
  • a discharge that occurs without squeezing, 
  • a rash or reddening of the skin that appears only on the breast.

How do I sign up for the free national breast screening programme

The national screening programme is for eligible women aged 45 to 69 with no breast symptoms. No referral is required.

BreastScreen Aotearoa



Mammograms are available by appointment at:

  • 27 Amesbury Street, Palmerston North  
  • 163 Wicksteed Street, Whanganui


Or at the Mobile Unit

The mobile unit visits community sites as part of the two-yearly BSA screening programme schedule. Locations in the Whanganui DHB region for 2017 are:  




​Start Date

​End Date


​Rangitikei Health Centre
18 Blackwell Street




​Ruapehu REAP
1 Tui Street




​Ngati Rangi Community Health Centre
36 Burns Street



For more information, visit the National Screening Unit website.

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