Women undergoing mammograms through South Australia’s statewide breast screening program are being forced to wait more than twice as long as expected for results, with workforce shortages among the reasons for the delays.

BreastScreen SA said while it aimed to deliver results in two weeks, the current turnaround time had blown out to 28 days.

South Australia’s screening program provides free mammograms for women aged over 40 who have no symptoms of breast cancer, and is intended to facilitate early detection.

The service’s program director Lauren Civetta urged women not to be deterred from making appointments because of the delays, which she said had been partly driven by a surge in demand in the wake of the introduction of online bookings.

“We’ve had our biggest ever April month on record, we’ve had huge numbers of women coming to the service for the first time, which is fantastic,” Ms Civetta told ABC Radio Adelaide.

“That has impacted the time it is taking to get all of those results read and get back to the women.”

Ms Civetta said “shortages in our radiologist workforce” were also among the chief factors, but said that efforts were underway to recruit more staff.

“When those staff come on board we have really high internal quality mechanisms, because the thing we want most is that when women get their results, we want them to have confidence in their results,” she said.

“It takes a bit of time for them [the radiologists] to meet our really high quality standards so that they can work with the program.”

Health Minister Chris Picton said six extra radiologists had been recruited, with the first two of those due to complete their training within “the next month or so”.

“We are doing that training and ‘onboarding’ as soon as possible,” he said.

“The other four will take a couple more months as well.

“That will help bring the turnaround times for the analysis down.”

‘All women should be breast aware’

Ms Civetta said women whose results needed further investigation were phoned as a priority in order to organise follow-up assessments, with those who had “no signs they need to be investigated further” receiving results in the post.

“We do encourage women, if they haven’t received their results in four weeks, to call us … on 13 20 50,” she said.

“Eight weeks or longer is absolutely not [typical].”

A radiologist uses a magnifying glass to check mammograms for breast cancer. (AP Photo: Damian Dovarganes)

A decade ago, BreastScreen SA was forced to recheck more than 53,000 mammograms after fewer breast cancers than usual were detected.

A review found 72 missed cancers which were “potentially detectable” at the time of initial mammograms done between September 2010 and June 2012.

A government investigation in 2013 found poor protocols were a major factor in mistakes made at BreastScreen SA and they happened during a slow changeover process to digital screening equipment.

Ms Civetta urged anyone with symptoms to go to a doctor.

“All women should be breast aware and if they have any symptoms — if that’s a lump, if it is pain, a change in their nipple or their skin or something — that’s when they need to go off to their GP to get that checked,” she said.

“They might get referred for diagnostic imaging which is different to screening imaging. It’s much more specialised.”