Facilitator/co-ordinator of Byron Bay Breast Cancer Support Group, Barbara Pinter, said the decision to stop the BreastScreen van from visiting the two towns was very disappointing and a step in the wrong direction.
“We need to improve access to diagnostic services, not take them away,” Ms Pinter, a breast cancer survivor said.
“Women will now have to travel to Lismore or Tweed Heads for a mammogram and for some this is going to prove very difficult.”
Ms Pinter said that working women and women who could not access transport easily would have great difficulty getting to these centres.
“When the van visited Byron Bay, it reminded women to go and have a mammogram,” she said.
“Now without the presence of the van, many women will just forget to go, or will find it just too hard to get to Lismore or Tweed Heads.
“Women always put their health at the bottom of the ‘to-do list’ and now without the van in town, some women who have breast cancer could go undetected.”
Ms Pinter said that while the new centre at Tweed Heads and the centre at Lismore had state-of-the-art facilities, the cut to the van’s service was extremely disappointing.
She said that with one in eight women in Australia being diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 2500 people dying from the disease each year, early detection was vital.
“The van was one prong on the fork of detection and now this has gone,” Ms Pinter said.
A media statement from the North Coast Area Health Service said the change to the number of mobile vans from three to one had not occurred for cost-saving reasons.
It said there had been no cost savings.
“NCAHS has four permanent BreastScreen Clinics in Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Tweed Heads and Port Macquarie that provide local women with potentially life-saving cancer screening through the use of new computerised radiology equipment,” the statement said.
“The new fixed BreastScreen site at Tweed Heads, which was completed at a cost of $1,465,000, provides spacious, high-quality screening facilities to women in the Tweed and surrounding areas on a year-round basis.
“BreastScreen NSW North Coast offers free mammograms to women 40 years and over.
“The permanent locations operate all-year round and provide more women with access to early cancer detection services.
“Previously, local women only had access to screening when the mobile van was in the area.”
The statement said the service currently offered out-of-hours appointments in Lismore and Tweed Heads.
“It is likely that most women from Ballina and Byron will visit one of these main centres in a two-year period,” it said.
“They can coincide their BreastScreen appointments with such visits.”
The Byron News asked the NCAHS to comment on the claim by Ms Pinter that the cut to the van’s service to Ballina and Byron Bay could result in women with breast cancer going undetected.
The health service did not respond to the direct question except to reiterate what it had already said in the media statement.
The Byron News did, however, manage to get some statistics about breast cancer from the NSW Cancer Institute.
Figures show that in the NCAHS area, 1747 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the five-year period to 2006.
Of those 1747 women, 92 cases were from the Byron Shire and 150 from Ballina.
A spokesman for the institute said the figures were within the state average.
The State Member for Ballina, Don Page, said the loss of the mobile van BreastScreen service would certainly result in fewer women accessing their free mammogram.
“If the van is local, women can be screened during their lunch break or in between family commitments,” he said.
“Many women work and will have very little opportunity to access the fixed units in Lismore and Tweed Heads.
“In an area that has virtually no public transport, many women will find it difficult to access their nearest screening centre.”
Mr Page said that early detection was the key factor which determined a woman’s survival and recovery from the disease.
“Surely the aim must be to increase the number of women who are screened for breast cancer,” he said.
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