ALMOST 200 women in western Victoria are living with breast cancer and don't know it.
That is the sobering statistic from the latest BreastScreen Victoria participation figures, which shows an alarming number of women have failed to undertake regular screening procedures since 2016.
Only 58 per cent of women in the high-risk 50-74 age group in the western district have taken up the free screening offer.
Ballarat's BreastScreen Victoria program manager Kim Kyatt said no referral from your GP was necessary for the early detection test.
"It is a free service for A-symptomatic women, which means you can't have any lumps or bumps going on," Ms Kyatt said.
"If you do notice a change, see your GP and they can refer you to a diagnostic centre in Ballarat or the region.
"If you don't have any symptoms you can come to us for free every two years if you are aged over 40."
Ms Kyatt said there were a range of excuses which stopped women from screening,
"I think a lot of women find it difficult to find the time, however we do have early morning appointments and after-hours on a Tuesday evening," she said.
"It does only take 30 minutes and if you want, you can get online at 10pm and make a booking, it's very simple.
"There are definitely fear issues. People are concerned about it hurting, it's tight for about five seconds and it comes straight off, but we always say to people as they come in that if you have any issues tell us straight away, we can take it off - that should not be a worry for women.
"Some people think they have to pay or need their Medicare card, but this is a free service funded by both the state and federal governments."
About 75 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
For Western Victoria Labor MP Jaala Pulford, she knows how lifesaving early detection can be
"I'm 45 now and I took the option to start the screening five years ago at 40 because I have some risk factors in my family," Ms Pulford said.
"My grandmother died of breast cancer in her early 40s, and in fact I never got to meet that grandmother because of breast cancer.
"No matter how busy we are, or squeamish, it's really no fuss and it takes just a moment and you can't put a price on receiving that letter telling you you're all clear, 'see you in two years'.
"And of course for those people who might have a different response to the screen, we know the outcomes are infinitely better if changes to our breasts are picked up early."
BreastScreen Victoria targets electoral roles and regularly sends out letters to women in the highest risk group aged 50-74.
Bookings can be made online at breastcreen.org or call 13 20 50.
Clinics are located in multiple towns in the western half of the state including Ballarat, Hamilton, Horsham, Warracknabeel and Warrnambool.
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