Breast Cancer Screening

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Breast cancer screening saves lives. Between 1990 and 2008, breast cancer death rates in Ontario women aged 50–74 decreased by 37% due to improved cancer treatments, increased participation in breast cancer screening, and a recent decline in breast cancer incidence.

Who Can Participate?

The Screen for Life Coach offers direct digital mammography to eligible women to screen for breast cancer. Women are eligible to participate if they:

  • Live in Ontario
  • Are 50 to 74 years of age and have:
    • no acute breast symptoms
    • no personal history of breast cancer
    • no current breast implants
    • not had a mammogram within the last 11 months

Women over the age of 74 can be screened on the Screen for Life Coach but are encouraged to make a personal decision about breast cancer screening in consultation with their primary care provider.

How often should I be screened?

Screening is recommended every two years for all women 50 and older who have no history of breast cancer, no breast implants, and have no symptoms or breast problems. Some women are asked to come back every year.

The Ontario Breast Screening Program will send you a reminder letter when it is time to return for your next visit to the Screen for Life Coach.

Additional screening opportunities on the Screen for Life Coach

The Screen for Life Coach offers three cancer screening tests. In addition to a breast screening mammogram, you may be eligible to have a Pap test (hyperlink to “What to Expect under the Cervical section) to screen for cervical cancer or a take-home ColonCancerCheck kit which is a test you complete in the privacy of your own home to screen for colorectal cancer. It is sometimes called the Fecal Occult Blood Test or FOBT.

Making an Appointment

Book your own appointment

Women can call the Screen for Life office to make their own appointment for a mammogram. There is no charge for this service and you do not need a doctor’s referral. When you book a mammogram, you will be given the opportunity to schedule a Pap test or meet with the coach nurse to discuss your wellness and screening history and, if eligible, receive a ColonCancerCheck kit during your visit.

If you are an OBSP client returning for your next screening visit, you will receive a reminder letter asking you to call the Screen for Life office to schedule your appointment. Please make sure you have your health card handy before you call.

If you live in Thunder Bay and surrounding area call 684-7777. If you live in the Northwest region, call 1-800-461-7031.

Primary care provider referral

A family doctor or nurse practitioner can refer women to the Screen for Life Coach.

Women aged 40-49 who do not meet the Ontario Breast Screening Program eligibility criteria should talk to their family doctor or nurse practitioner about whether they should have a mammogram.

Women aged 30 to 69 years who are confirmed as high risk for breast cancer should be screened through the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) High Risk Screening Program. A family doctor or nurse practitioner can refer women to the High Risk Program.

Your breast screening appointment

Once you have booked an appointment, you will receive a letter with the date, time and location of your appointment on the Screen for Life Coach.

Before your appointment, you will receive a phone call from a Screen for Life booking clerk to remind you of your appointment on the Screen for Life Coach.

What to Expect

Screen for Life Coach

Our mobile screening coach visits over 60 locations throughout Northwestern Ontario. Parking at the coach location is free. When you arrive you can enter through the side door at the front of the coach and relax in our waiting area. There you will be greeted by one of the two female screening staff who are always on the coach. There are private change rooms on the coach but no washroom. Please remember to use the washroom before you come for your appointment.

The Screen for Life coach is wheelchair accessible.

Nationally accredited staff and equipment

The Screen for Life Coach is equipped with a state of the art direct digital mammography unit accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) Mammography Accreditation Program. The mammography unit is operated by a certified Medical Radiation Technologist (MRT). Equipment and staff ensure that all women receive a high quality mammogram that meets national standards.

Your Mammogram/Wellness Visit appointment

Your Screen for Life Coach appointment will last approximately 45 minutes: the breast screening mammogram takes approximately 20 minutes, and 20 minutes will be spent having a Pap test (if you are eligible) or meeting with the coach nurse to discuss your wellness and screening history and, if eligible, get a ColonCancerCheck kit.

Do not use deodorants, antiperspirants, body lotions, or talcum powders. Metals in these products can show up on the X-ray image.

Wear a loose fitting top that buttons down the front.

What happens when I have a mammogram

A registered medical radiation technologist specializing in mammography will place your breast on the mammography machine where a plastic plate will slowly press down to flatten your breast and hold it in place for a few seconds. You will feel some pressure on your breast during the mammogram. This pressure does not harm your breast tissue.

Four images of your breast will be taken (two images of each breast). The technologist will check the images to make sure they are high quality. If needed, the technologist will take additional images.

Results

In approximately two weeks, women who have normal results will receive a letter from the Screen for Life office. The letter is also sent to your health care provider. The letter will indicate when you should return to the Screen for Life Coach for your next screening mammogram.

If your results indicate further testing is required abnormal result you will be contacted directly by our breast patient navigator to discuss next steps and arrange follow-up tests. Most women who need more testing do not have breast cancer.

Your next appointment

The Screen for Life office will send you a letter when it is time for your next screening mammogram. Most women return to breast screening every two years. When you receive your letter, call the Screen for Life office to arrange your next screening mammogram on the Screen for Life Coach. Or you can schedule your mammogram appointment at a Northwestern Ontario location that is convenient for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is breast cancer screening?

    Breast cancer screening is the regular examination of a woman’s breasts using mammography (breast x-ray) to find breast cancer early. Breast cancer screening saves lives. Between 1990 and 2008, breast cancer death rates in Ontario women aged 50–74 decreased by 37% due to improved cancer treatments, increased participation in breast cancer screening, and a recent decline in breast cancer incidence. Click here to learn more about breast screening mmmograms.

  2. Why is breast cancer screening needed?

    Regular breast cancer screening can find cancer when it is small, which means:

    • There is a better chance of treating the cancer successfully.
    • It is less likely to spread.
    • There may be more treatment options.
  3. What is the best way to screen for breast cancer?

    Mammography (breast x-ray) remains the best screening test for most women. Ontario women can receive a screening mammogram in one of two ways: through Ontario’s organized provincial screening program the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) or through non-OBSP sites. Click here to read more about recent changes to breast mammography in Ontario.

  4. When should women have breast screening mammograms?

    In Ontario, evidence shows that women aged 50 to 74 should have a screening mammogram every two years. For women aged 40−49, the evidence for mammography is not as strong. In Ontario, guidelines recommend that women aged 40−49 talk to their health care provider to make a personal decision about whether mammography is right for them.

    The time to go for screening is when you feel fine. If you are ever worried about the health of your breasts, see your healthcare provider.

  5. How effective are screening mammograms?

    Many studies show that regular mammograms improve the chances of finding cancer in its earliest stages. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, but they are not perfect. They may miss some cancers. Also, some breast cancers develop in the time between mammograms.

    Some cancers that appear on a mammogram may never progress to the point where a woman has symptoms during her lifetime. So some women may have surgery or treatment for a breast cancer that may never have been life threatening.

    Not all cancers found through screening can be cured. But most women (88%) are alive and well five years after early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

  6. Are mammograms safe?

    Mammograms are safe because they use a low dose of radiation. The benefits of screening and finding cancer early outweigh the potential harm from the mammogram radiation.

  7. What happens during a mammogram?

    A registered medical radiation technologist specializing in mammography will place your breast on the mammography machine where a plastic plate will slowly press down to flatten your breast and hold it in place for a few seconds. You will feel some pressure on your breast during the mammogram. This pressure does not harm your breast tissue.

    Four images of your breast will be taken (two images of each breast). The technologist will check the images to make sure they are high quality. If needed, the technologist will take additional images.

  8. How does it feel to have a mammogram?

    You will feel some pressure on your breast. It feels similar to a tight blood pressure cuff. Some women experience very mild pain but it lasts only for a few seconds. If you feel pain during the mammogram, tell the technologist. The technologist may be able to adjust the pressure. It is our goal to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

    Tips to prepare for a mammogram

    • Most women’s breasts are tender the week before and after their period. Book your mammogram for a time when your breasts are not so tender.
    • Some women take a mild pain relief pill, such as the kind you would take for a headache, about one hour before the appointment. Only do this if it will not affect other medicines you are taking or other health issues you may have.
    • Some experts suggest having less caffeine for two weeks before the appointment to help reduce tenderness.
    • On the day of the mammogram wear a two-piece outfit. You will be asked to remove your top.
    • Do not use deodorants, antiperspirants, body lotions, or talcum powders. Metals in these products can show up on the mammogram image.
  9. Where should you go to have a mammogram?

    To ensure you receive a good quality mammogram, choose a site that is accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) Mammography Accreditation Program or call the Canadian Cancer Society Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333. All Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) sites have CAR accreditation.

  10. What does it mean if more tests are needed?

    Most women who need more testing do not have breast cancer. If your mammogram shows suspicious results, you will be contacted directly by a breast patient navigator to discuss options and arrange follow-up tests.

  11. What advantages does the Ontario Breast Screening Program offer?

    The Ontario Breast Screening Program schedules screening appointments, sends recall and result letters to participating women, and arranges follow-up services for women with results that show that they need more tests. Women who are screened for breast cancer within an organized screening program like the OBSP further benefit by participating in a program that has ongoing quality assurance, program monitoring, and evaluation.

    In addition, all OBSP sites are accredited with the Canadian Association of Radiologists Mammography Accreditation Program.

  12. What about women who are high risk?

    The Ontario Breast Screening Program has a high risk screening program for women aged 30-69 who may be at high risk for breast cancer. OBSP high risk screening centres – the Linda Buchan Centre in Thunder Bay is a high risk centre – facilitate genetic assessment referrals for women who may be at high risk for breast cancer. For women who have been confirmed to be at high risk for breast cancer, Ontario’s high risk screening program offers annual screening mammography and breast MRI, and facilitates follow-up breast assessment services for women who require extra tests. Click here to learn more about the Ontario Breast Screening High Risk Program.

    Breast Health Guidelines

    • Know how your breasts normally look and feel.
    • Know what breast changes to look for, such as a lump or dimpling, changes in your nipple or fluid leaking from the nipple, skin changes or redness that do not go away, any other changes in your breasts.
    • If you notice breast changes, see your healthcare provider. Most changes are not cancerous but you should have them checked right away.
    • If you are 40–49, talk to your healthcare provider about having a mammogram.
    • If you are 50–74, go for a mammogram every two years with the Ontario Breast Screening Program.
    • If you are 30–69 and think you may be at high risk for breast cancer, talk to your healthcare provider about a referral for a yearly mammogram and breast MRI based on family or medical history.