National funding to improve breast cancer screening participation

A researcher from The University of Western Australia has been awarded federal funds for a world-first investigation into improving the mammogram experience, particularly for women with obesity, and increasing breast cancer screening participation.

Associate Professor Jennifer Stone, from UWA’s School of Population and Global Health, has been awarded more than $800,000 to lead BreastScreenPlus: A novel intervention targeting obesity-related barriers to mammographic screening as part of the National Health and Medical Research Council Development’s Targeted Call for Research into Participation in Cancer Screening Programs.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia. Breast cancer screening increases early detection and eight breast cancer deaths are prevented for every 1,000 women aged 50 to 74 years who undergo mammographic screening every two years.

Despite the demonstrated benefits of (free) mammographic screening, around 40 per cent of women attending screening for the first or second time fail to return when their next screening is due.

“A mammogram is a very intimate exam. Members of our investigating team have demonstrated that body image plays a critical role in deterring women from mammographic screening, and that negative experiences by women with obesity drive reluctance to attend for future rescreening,” Associate Professor Stone said.

“These issues may be exacerbated by practical problems experienced by radiographers and lack of empathy from service delivery staff when screening women with obesity.

“As obesity is linked to poorer prognoses and lower breast cancer survival rates, improving rescreening rates within women with obesity is vital.”

Associate Professor Stone’s research will evaluate a novel intervention to improve the screening experience for both women and radiographers with the aim of increasing rescreening participation, particularly among women living with obesity.

The research includes practical and empathy training for BreastScreen service delivery staff to improve their management of women with obesity and providing better information for women about mammography including visual images to normalise body shapes and sizes.

By directly addressing barriers to breast screening participation in this high-risk group, the study has the potential to improve breast cancer survival and the intervention may also benefit the additional 30 per cent of the screening population who are overweight.

The research will be conducted in collaboration with BreastScreen Western Australia and researchers from the University of Western Sydney and the University of Melbourne.

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