Marlene Caton was sitting on the floor wrapping Christmas presents 26 years ago when she decided to lie flat on the ground and check her breasts.

Her spontaneous self-examination was a life saver – the then 43-year-old discovered a tiny lump in her left breast.

“It felt like a little hardened green pea,” she said.

She called her doctor but it was Christmas Eve, so she waited until Boxing Day before heading to the clinic for an examination. She was immediately referred to an oncologist, who later diagnosed her as having breast cancer.

Early detection and treatment put her cancer into remission.

But just seven years later, another self-breast examination led to a second discovery – her breast was riddled with disease.

“I couldn’t feel any lump but the left boob had shrunk somewhat – it felt spongy,” she said.

Mrs Caton had a mastectomy and 18 months later had a breast reconstruction.

Cancer has not been kind to the Bundoora resident who was diagnosed with secondary bone cancer two years ago. While the cancer is “arrested” to her ischium bone, which is part of the hip, she has been having chemotherapy for the past 18 months.

The 67-year old has become an outspoken advocate for self-administered breast checks and screens.

The latest statistics from BreastScreen Victoria show that just 55 per cent of women aged between 50 and 69 who live in the state electorate of Bundoora had their breasts screened every two years, as recommended.

Women in the neighbouring electorates of Thomastown and Mill Park were even less inclined to test, with just 51 and 50 per cent respectively participating in BreastScreen Victoria’s program.

The statewide average participation rate was 54 per cent. The electorate of Bellarine recorded the highest participation rate of 63 per cent, and Prahran the lowest at 45 per cent.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Mary-Anne Thomas said a regular breast screen every two years was the best way to find cancer early.

“This data reminds us that we have more to do to raise awareness of the importance of regular breast screening,” Ms Thomas said.

“I encourage Victorian women, particularly those over the age of 50, to have their breasts screened regularly … if you’re eligible, it’s free through BreastScreen Victoria.”