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Health

The ‘reach’ for mammograms

In November 2023 Project Mammogram passed its first major milestone, $100,000 in donations and currently that total sits at $122,000. So, who could benefit from having a gold standard mammogram machine based permanently in Whitianga?
 |  Cynthia Daly  | 

Project Mammogram committee chairman, Mike Brown of Whitianga Lions Club says achieving that first milestone is due to the support the communities in the Coromandel have given to this fundraiser.

Both Whitianga and Mercury Bay Lions Clubs and Mercury Bay Lions Club members are spear heading the fundraising but many community organisations and individuals have also contributed. The goal is to offer a public/private general mammogram service that will be more convenient for anyone wanting a screening mammogram.

Biennial screening appointments will be able to be made at any time throughout the year, enabling people to plan their scan around their work or time it with a trip to Whitianga. The private service would also be available to visitors to our region who maybe tourists due for a scan or holidaymakers not wanting to miss their scheduled scan.

“Looking at the map of the eastern seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula, we envisage the catchment area for people using this service as running from Port Charles and Coromandel town all the way to Whangamata.

“We need a private/public system so that we can capture all age groups of women for mammograms in our area. The reason is because women out of the publicly funded age of 45 and 69 cannot be breast-screened in the public system without a doctor’s appointment and they’re not catered for on the mobile service. Given the demographic of our region, it’s important to provide a system that would allow women of all ages in our area to be able to be screened when they want.

“The gold standard internationally is for women aged between 40 and 74 to receive a regular biennial mammogram. Currently in New Zealand the public system provides free mammogram screening two-yearly for women aged 45-69.

However, there are others outside that age group, including those with a family history of breast cancer, who may still have to pay for their mammogram, but they will save the cost of travel to Hamilton if we have a unit in Whitianga.

Breast cancer doesn’t respect any age boundary so we recommend you continue to screen outside the publicly funded age group.

“At our earliest discussions about this project, our goal was to provide a service for early detection and better outcomes for all women in our communities. That goal continues to resonate with everyone involved and your continued support for Project Mammogram is greatly appreciated.”

Announcement by Health Minister

On Thursday, 15 February, 2024 Health Minister Hon Dr Shane Reti announced on Beehive.govt.nz that the coalition Government has made the first steps in delivering on its promise to extend free breast screening to women aged 70-74. Minister Shane Reti says, “As part of the 100-day plan, the Government has now met with officials and discussed what is needed in order for the screening to be extended. Breast cancer is the most common cancer amongst New Zealand women, and that’s why the Government prioritised this crucial initiative in our 100-day plan.

“It’s vitally important to all affected women and their families that we detect more breast cancer early. Overall, our extension means women will be eligible for an average of two to three extra mammograms once the programme is fully implemented – and that means around 120,000 additional women will be eligible for screening every two years.

“While we want to move as swiftly as possible, we need to allow the health system to prepare for the roughly 60,000 additional women eligible each year.”

Dr Reti says there is a lot of preparation in terms of human and capital infrastructure as well as the expansion of existing screening services. The existing screening programme has shown 34 per cent of participants are less likely to die from breast cancer.

“Catching more cancers early means better treatment outcomes, and we anticipate an additional 22 lives could be saved every year,” says Dr Reti. “Raising the breast cancer screening age will benefit all women including Maori and Pacific peoples who have particularly high rates.”