Kylie breast cancer prompted rise in screening in Australia

In collaboration with the Press Association

There was a rise in the number of Australian women between the ages of 25 and 44 going for breast screening in the months following Kylie Minogue's breast cancer diagnosis, a new study has revealed.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne found that use of mammography and breast ultrasound procedures increased by over 30 per cent in that age group, who have a very low risk of the disease, during the six months after the news broke in April 2005.

The number of 25 to 34-year-olds undergoing breast biopsies also rose sharply during the period of intense publicity.

 

However, the scientists found that the increase in screening did not lead to the detection of more cases of breast cancer.

Study leader Dr Margaret Kelaher, from the university's Melbourne School of Population Health, said that increased awareness of breast screening is generally a good thing and that the visibility of a celebrity's illness provides an opportunity to address a major health problem.

However, she noted that when that celebrity is from a low-risk group, "it also has the potential to undercut the appropriateness and cost-effectiveness of health service delivery".

"These findings suggest that thousands of additional imaging procedures and biopsies did not improve breast cancer detection among young women," she said.

"It appears there has been a situation where publicity has led to many low-risk women using - and probably overusing - screening services. We need to improve the targeting of health messages and the confidence of women and their doctors in early breast cancer detection recommendations.

"Consultation between a celebrity's PR team and public health agencies on how to shape and disseminate the information could help create a message with the best chances of furthering the quality of care and sound public health practice."

Dr Julie Miller, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital who co-authored the findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology, said: "It's important that women are breast-aware and consult their doctor if they are concerned about any changes in their breasts.

"However there is no role for routine screening of women under 40 who do not have symptoms or a strong family history. This study shows that all the extra worry and expense was unwarranted and that the current recommendations for breast cancer screening are appropriate."

Fewer than 8,000 of the 44,500 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK each year are under 50 years old.

All women between the ages of 50 and 70 are currently invited for breast screening every three years in the UK, and this will be extended to cover women between the ages of 47 and 73 by 2012.