An important reminder for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Dana Petrucelli, a mammogram technologist at Hamilton Health Sciences.

Book your Mammogram with the Ontario Breast Screening Program

Dr. Terry Minuk

By Dr. Terry MinukOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I am taking this opportunity to remind women to talk to their family doctor or nurse practitioner about getting checked for this disease. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian women, with one in eight women developing the disease at some time in their life. The good news is that early diagnosis with mammographic screening and improvements in treatment have significantly improved survival. In fact, women who attend breast screening programs in Canada have a 40 per cent improvement in mortality compared to those who are not screened.

Approximately 12,000 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in Canada in 2018 and there were 2,000 deaths from the disease. Many deaths were due to advanced breast cancer in women who were not screened or in patients who delayed seeing their doctor when they felt a lump. Many of those deaths could have been prevented.

The size of breast cancer when it is diagnosed remains one of the most important factors in long-term survival. Most small cancers are curable, do not require mastectomies and frequently do not require chemotherapy. Mammography is the single best test to diagnose breast cancer when it is small and less apt to have spread outside the breast.

The Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) is a free province-wide cancer screening program that aims to reduce the chance of dying from breast cancer. The OBSP offers mammographic screening to average risk women between 50-74 years of age every two years. The OBSP also offers women who are at a high risk of developing breast cancer — due to factors such as a strong family history — annual mammographic and annual magnetic resonance (MR) screening starting at 30 years of age. Women with a mother or sister with breast cancer should start routine screening 10 years before that relative was diagnosed. For example, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50 years old, you should start annual screening at 40 years of age.

We do not know what causes breast cancer, but know that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk. To that extent it is important to be physically active as part of everyday life, maintain a healthy body weight especially after menopause, limit alcohol intake to no more than one alcoholic drink per day and limit the length of time you are on hormone replacement therapy.

I believe that we are winning the battle with breast cancer, through early detection with mammography and significant improvements in treatment. In this region there are over 20 OBSP locations. Discuss breast cancer screening with your doctor and book your next screening mammogram today at a location that is convenient for you. For a list of locations in this region please visit www.hnhbscreenforlife.ca/breast-screening.

Dr. Terry Minuk is the Regional Breast Imaging Lead for the Regional Cancer Program