Following a sudden spate in the number of female celebrities diagnosed with breast cancer and others in the beeline for mammograms, experts have warned that the diagnostic procedure is ineffective in women under 40.
"It is important to dispel the misconceptions, address unnecessary alarm and provide the facts for this age group," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Dr. Helen Zorbas, director of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, as saying at the launch of breast cancer awareness day in Sydney.
She highlighted the fact that women under 40 made up just six per cent of the 12,000 females diagnosed with the disease, and rates remained static.
However, younger women are more prone to an aggressive form of the disease, and have a 39 per cent increased risk of dying.
She said that diagnoses among young celebrities like pop star Kylie Minogue, fashion designer Heidi Middleton and actress Christina Applegate, and deaths of Jane McGrath, wife of former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath, and actress and singer Belinda Emmett, was misguiding the public about an epidemic among the young.
"The so called 'Kylie effect' led to an increase in the number of women who made bookings for mammograms but many of these women were in the under-40 age group, where mammographic screening is not effective," she said.
Dr. Zorbas insisted screening programs could result in a 30 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths because they could detect the small white abnormalities with relative ease.
However, she added, it would be very difficult to recognize younger, denser breasts that resemble "cotton wool" in scans.
"Early detection for breast cancer in young women relies almost completely on young women themselves, knowing their own bodies and picking up the early signs of the disease," she said.
Dr. Zobras, whose audiences included Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, said that a new campaign recommended "breast awareness" for young women, and encouraging them to check themselves regularly for lumps without the use of any special technique.
She pointed out that international studies had shown that specific checking styles did not reduce cancer deaths.
The researcher also said that women could reduce their breast cancer risk by up to 30 per cent by keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy body weight.
The Prime Minister told the audience that the country needed to do better in tackling all forms of cancer.
"It's time as a nation that we renew our national efforts in what must be a national war against cancer," Rudd said.