October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Five things you may not know about breast cancer

Sandra MacFarlene and Dr. Anat KorneckiOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, in partnership with the South West Regional Cancer Program, is encouraging women between the ages of 50 and 74 to talk with their healthcare providers about getting screened regularly with a mammogram. 

Pictured: Sandra MacFarlane, left, Technical Coordinator, Mammography, at St. Joseph’s Hospital, and Dr. Anat Kornecki, Breast Readiology Lead,  are pleased to offer breast screening with the new Senographe Pristina mammography units, which are changing the mammogram experience for women. A first in-industry feature of the new mammography units means patients can use a remote to choose the amount of compression during an exam according to their comfort level.

Unfortunately, many eligible women in Ontario are still not getting screened for breast cancer. The most recent Ontario statistics show that among Ontario women who had a mammogram through the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) in 2014, 79 percent returned within 30 months for another mammogram (i.e., retention). This is a decrease from the 81 percent who returned in 2013. Retention was lowest in women ages 50 to 54 (74 percent), which means there are still many eligible women in this age group who could benefit from regular breast cancer screening.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Ontario women. It is estimated that about 11,762 Ontario women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and about 1,977 Ontario women will die from the disease in 2018. 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 Ontario Breast Screening Program 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 confirmed to be at high risk of getting breast cancer are screened once a year with a mammogram and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (or screening breast ultrasound if MRI is not medically appropriate).

“Since 1990, there has been a considerable decrease in the death rate from breast cancer in women ages 50 to 74,” says Dr. Jan Owen, Regional Primary Care Lead for the South West Regional Cancer Program. “This decrease is likely due to improvements in breast cancer treatment and more women getting screened with mammograms. Although mammograms are not perfect tests, getting screened for breast cancer regularly can find cancer early when it may be smaller and easier to treat.”

Talk with your health care provider today about your breast screening options. To learn more, visit Cancer Care Ontario.

Five things you may not know about breast cancer

Think you have all the facts on breast cancer? Here are five things you may not know.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. In Ontario, breast cancer happens mostly in women ages 50 to 74 (61 percent of cases). Regular breast cancer screening is important because it can find cancer early when it may be smaller and easier to treat.

Limiting alcohol can reduce your risk. A healthy lifestyle, including limiting alcohol, can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Other factors that may lower a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer are not smoking or using tobacco products, having a healthy body weight, and being physically fit.

Breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates out of all of the cancers in Ontario. Studies show that regular mammograms (and proper follow up testing for abnormal results) lower the risk of dying from breast cancer in women ages 50 to 74. Deaths from breast cancer in the Ontario population went down by about 47 percent in women ages 50 to 74 from 1990 to 2013. This decrease in deaths is probably due to improvements in breast cancer treatment and more women getting screened.

Between 1990 and 2017, more than 39,000 breast cancers have been found by the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) through mammography, most of which were in early stages. From the start of the program in 1990 to July 2017, over 1.9 million women ages 50 to 74 had a mammogram through the OBSP, resulting in more than 7.4 million mammograms completed.  The OBSP recommends that most women ages 50 to 74 get screened every two years with mammography. Eligible women can make their own appointments or be referred for screening by a healthcare provider.

Changes in the breast are not always signs of cancer. All women – regardless of age or risk factors – should be breast aware. This means knowing how your breasts normally look and feel so you can tell if there are changes.

For more information about breast cancer screening, visit Cancer Care Ontario.

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