Screening vs Diagnostic Mammography

Many women approach their primary healthcare provider for advice regarding the difference between screening and diagnostic mammography.

The table below outlines the main differences. 

Screening mammography


Diagnostic mammography

For asymptomatic ‘well’ women to detect unsuspected lesions.



For diagnosing breast changes or abnormalities that may have been detected through breast self exam (BSE) and/or clinical examination.

Emphasis is on mass population screening to reduce overall mortality and morbidity.



Emphasis is on individual benefit.


Performed by BreastScreen NSW services at both fixed and mobile locations – BreastScreen is an organised program where recruitment, education, screening, assessment, recall, data collection and evaluation are performed.


Service Provision

Performed by private radiology practices, private breast clinics and public hospital radiology departments as required on referral from GPs or surgeons.


Biennial screening is free to women aged 40 years and over with women aged 50–74 years actively recruited. Women aged 74 and over are also eligible.



For women or men of any age who have symptoms or signs.


Free service



Medicare rebate may be available but out-of-pocket costs may be incurred


No referral required. Recommendations from health professionals are strongly encouraged.



Referral required from medical practitioner.


Staff specialise in screening for and assessing impalpable lesions. Mammograms are read independently by two specially trained radiologists.



Staff experienced in a range of diagnostic procedures. Experience in breast cancer mainly with women presenting with palpable lesions/changes.

Results letter notifying the woman screened and her primary health care provider (where nominated) are delivered in about two weeks.

Where screening results are abnormal, notification is sent to the woman screened and her nominated general practitioner immediately.


Full report is sent to general practitioner or surgeon usually within a few days.



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