• The catwalk at the Pink Sari fashion show . (SBS)
The Pink Sari campaign in NSW aims to encourage women from migrant communities to get screened for breast cancer, and organisers hope its success will inspire other states to run similar initiatives.
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29 Jun 2015 - 4:24 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2015 - 10:47 AM

Padmini Peris was 43 when she discovered something worrying.

"I found a lump on my left breast. I went for my first mammogram. It was diagnosed even at that time as an aggressive type of cancer -  quite large," she said.

She underwent chemotherapy - and beat the cancer. Ten years later, there was more bad news. Doctors told her she had cancer in her other breast.

After extensive treatment, she is now cancer free. She says too many women from her community avoid having mammograms.

"Mostly because of fear - fear of unknown, of not knowing what they would face. They would rather not do it than face being diagnosed with cancer."

According to the NSW Cancer Institute, only one in two women aged between 50-70 years in the state have regular mammograms.

For women from Sri Lankan and Indian communities, the number is much lower – just one in five.

"Because of fear of the unknown - they would rather not do it than face being diagnosed with cancer."

Dr Nimala Pathmanathan, from the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute, says there may be cultural reasons for this.

“Sometimes women feel embarrassed about having to get undressed to have this test. Sometimes there's a stigma associated with having an illness,” she said.

Funded by the NSW Cancer Institute, and led by the NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service, the Pink Sari Project is changing attitudes, by linking cancer screening to a symbol of feminine power and elegance - the sari.

The NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service says it's seen an increase in screening for women of Indian and Sri Lankan backgrounds since the campaign began last year.

The Sri Lanka Association of NSW recently held a Fabulously Pink fashion show in support of the Pink Sari Project in Sydney, where cancer survivors, including Padmini, donned pink and took to the catwalk, with the aim of showing other women the importance of breast screening.

"It is extremely important. What I have gone through, the chemotherapy, the radiation and ongoing diagnostics tests and scans and everything -  all of this  could have been avoided by just getting an initial mammogram done and early detection,” Ms Peris said.

Doctors recommend screening every two years for women aged between 50 and 70. Free screening is available through Breast Screen Australia.