Women in their early 40s need to have mammograms but new research shows the message is not getting through.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation's new appeal, launched this week, features body-painted celebrities who have survived breast cancer.

Some, like actress Katlyn Wong, are still young when they are diagnosed. The star of television's Go Girls and the film My Wedding and Other Secrets was only 28.

"I was determined to fight even harder and become even stronger through this experience," she says in today's Herald on Sunday Living magazine.


She appears in the fundraising calendar as Sekhmet, the Egyptian warrior goddess and goddess of healing.

The foundation says women aged between 40 and 44 need to be willing to reach into their purse to pay for private mammograms.

Free mammograms are available to women over 45. They are not recommended for women under 40 because the density of breast tissue makes scans difficult. Ultrasounds are preferable.

Breast cancer accounts for about 45 per cent of cancer cases among women in the 40-44 age group, but few have considered paying up to $160 for an annual mammogram to be done privately.

To mark the start of Breast Cancer Action Month, the Foundation commissioned Colmar Brunton to survey 250 women aged 40 to 44.

The research found 70 per cent had never had a mammogram. Uptake was lower outside Auckland and in households with an income below $100,000.

Foundation chief executive Van Henderson said women whose cancer was detected by screening had a 95 per cent chance of surviving the following five years.

"Early diagnosis and treatment have been proven to save lives," said Henderson. "Women need to be proactive about their breast health, and that means getting screened from age 40. If you wait until you find a lump, it might be too late."