A mammogram is a quick and easy way to detect breast cancer in its early stages. It only takes five minutes to book it, and ten minutes to complete the mammogram.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian women, with one in nine women expected to be diagnosed. If caught early, there is less chance of the cancer spreading, and a greater chance of successfully treating it. Early detection is the most reliable protection.
A mammogram uses a special X-ray machine to take a picture of the breast and detect any changes that have occurred, even those too small for the average person to see or feel. The mammogram is administered by a registered medical radiation technologist and involves a plastic plate that is slowly pressed down to flatten the breast and hold it in place for a few seconds. Women will feel some pressure on the breast for a few seconds, but this does not harm the breast tissue and actually helps to ensure a high quality image.
Close to 60% of breast cancers occur in women aged 50 to 74. This is why the province offers an organized cancer screening program, called the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP). The OBSP offers screen-eligible women mammograms between the ages of 50 to 74 years to help detect any breast cancers early. However, in Northwestern Ontario many eligible women do not have regular screening mammograms, 42.1% to be exact. The largest group of eligible women not booking mammogram appointments are those aged 50 to 54.
The OBSP offers free screening mammograms to women aged 50 to 74 years of age who are at average risk for breast cancer. These women must not have: acute breast symptoms, personal history of breast cancer, current breast implants, nor had a mammogram in the last 11 months. The OBSP sends women reminder letters when it is time to book another mammogram, and if a woman has an abnormal mammogram, follow-up is coordinated by the OBSP. Women can be referred to the OBSP by their physician or they can self-refer by booking their own appointment.
Dr. Nicole Zavagnin, Cancer Care Ontario Regional Primary Care Lead with Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, understands that some women may feel apprehension about mammograms. “Many people experience anxiety with testing. Understanding how the test works and what to expect is helpful to alleviate these anxieties,” says Zavagnin. “If a woman has questions regarding mammography it is important to discuss these with her primary care provider in order to get a full and accurate picture of the risks and benefits of screening,” she adds.
Mammograms are the most reliable protection against breast cancer for women over 50, but there are many other ways to reduce one’s risk of breast cancer such as living a healthy lifestyle. MyCancerIQ, an online risk-assessment tool developed by Cancer Care Ontario provides individuals with a personalized action plan to reduce their risk of breast cancer. For more information on MyCancerIQ visit: www.mycanceriq.ca
More information regarding the Ontario Breast Screening Program can be found online at www.cancercare.on.ca/pcs/screening/breastscreening/obsp/. To book a mammogram in Thunder Bay or across Northwestern Ontario, women can call the Ontario Breast Screening Program at 1-800-461-7031.