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Many Ontario women still not getting screened for breast cancer

Posted Sep 30th, 2017

Many Ontario women still not getting screened for breast cancer October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Niagara Health, in partnership with Cancer Care Ontario, is encouraging women to participate in the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) as soon as they’re eligible and make mammograms part of their routine medical care.

Mammograms can find breast cancer when it’s small, less likely to have spread and easier to treat. The OBSP offers free screening mammograms to women aged 50 to 74 with no signs of breast cancer as part of their routine medical care. It’s recommended that these women get a mammogram every two years since early detection through mammography can result in significant health benefits including increased treatment options and better survival rates.

Yet in the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network, only 63 per cent of eligible women ages 50 to 74 get screened. That’s close to the provincial average of 65 per cent.

Once women start screening through the OBSP, they tend to return. The most recent stats from 2013 showed that 81 per cent of women, both regionally and provincially, returned for their next mammogram within 30 months. Even so, there was a slight decrease from 2012, when 83 per cent of women provincially and 82 per cent regionally returned for their next mammogram within 30 months.  

Program retention was lowest in women ages 50 to 54 (77 per cent provincially), which suggests these younger women haven’t yet made screening part of their healthcare routine.

“Breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates out of all of the cancers in Ontario,” said Dr. Janice Giesbrecht, Niagara Health’s Chief of Oncology. “Studies show that regular mammograms lower the risk of dying from breast cancer in women ages 50 to 74. Screening mammography can find breast cancers when they are small, less likely to have spread and more likely to be treated successfully.”

Women can book their own OBSP appointment at one of the five OBSP sites in Niagara. More information can be found on the Niagara Health website here. Women can also go through their healthcare provider.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Ontario women. It is estimated that about 10,100 will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 1,900 will die from the disease in 2017. However, in women between the ages of 50 and 69, one death is prevented for every 721 women who get screened regularly with mammograms over a period of time (approximately 11 years). In Ontario, over two million women ages 50 to 74 are eligible to be screened by the OBSP.

The Regional Cancer Program, in partnership with the OBSP, provides high-quality breast screening throughout Ontario to two groups of women:
  • Most women ages 50 to 74 are screened every two years with mammography.
  • Women ages 30 to 69 who are at high risk of getting breast cancer are screened once a year with a  mammogram and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (or, if MRI is not medically appropriate, screening breast ultrasound).
Women should talk to their healthcare provider about what’s right for them based on their personal and family health history.

“I would encourage women to start screening with the OBSP as soon as they’re eligible, and continue with routine mammograms every two years,” said Dr. Terry Minuk, Regional Lead for the OBSP. “The OBSP sends women reminder letters when it’s time to book their appointment, so it’s very easy to stay up-to-date with screening.”

Niagara Health System