Breast cancer screenings down among Ontario women

Mammography are happening as frequently as the used to among women in Ontario.

Cancer affects the lives of just about everyone, in some form or fashion. Whether the disease runs in the family or you know someone who has been diagnosed with it – perhaps in the midst of treatment – cancer's reaches run deep.

In Canada, breast cancer is among the more common types, yet despite the disease's frequency, many women aren't getting screened in the manner recommended by their doctors, according to the results of a newly released poll.

The trend is especially problematic in Ontario, Canada's most-populated province. Since 2013, the percentage of women who return for an additional mammogram after receiving one 30 months prior has slipped, falling to approximately 80 percent from 83 percent in 2012, based on surveys conducted by Cancer Care Ontario. Known as retention, follow-up screenings have fallen off rather sharply among women ages 50 to 54, as just 77 percent are getting screened for breast cancer.

Linda Rabeneck, vice-president of prevention and cancer control at Cancer Care Ontario, noted that it's in women's interest to get checked out, because when it's caught early, breast cancer has a high survival rate.

"Studies show that regular mammograms lower the risk of dying from breast cancer in women ages 50 to 74," Rabeneck explained. "Screening mammography can find breast cancers when they are small, less likely to have spread and more likely to be treated successfully."

More than 10,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer annually
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are more than 100 types of cancer known to doctors, but in Ontario, breast cancer tops them all, affecting an estimated 10,100 Ontario women each year, based on the estimates of Cancer Care Ontario. In 2017, roughly 1,900 women in the province will die from the disease.

Along with lung, colorectal and prostate, breast cancer is also among the more common varieties in the country overall. Indeed, the Canadian Cancer Society says 25 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in women affect the breast, based on the most recent statistics available.

Eric Hoskins, M.D., minister of Health and Long-Term Care, noted that even though screenings have been around for many years, one of the biggest reasons why is because they work.

"Getting regular screenings for breast cancer is the best way to find and diagnose the disease early, and treat it successfully," Hoskins said. "Please schedule regular screenings to increase the likelihood of early diagnosis and successful treatment."

Screening ideally done every other year
For screenings to be truly effective, however, it's important for women to follow the recommended guidelines. For instance, as noted by the Ontario Breast Screening Program, 50- to 74-year-old women should receive a mammogram once every two years. The frequency could be greater, depending on family medical history. Meanwhile, for women ages 30 to 69 and are at high risk of getting breast cancer, mammograms ought to take place annually, along with breast MRIs.

Although screening have dropped off slightly, as of July 2016, more than 1.7 million women between 50 and 74 years of age received a mammogram through the OBSP, according to Cancer Care Ontario, translating to approximately 6.8 million, when including other age groups. Of these, 35,000 malignancies were detected, most of them having not spread to other parts of the body.

When breast cancers are more advanced, a mastectomy may be necessary, removing one or both breasts. While this can be a difficult option for women to consider, breast reconstruction may be an option. However, perhaps due to unawareness, only 20 percent of women in Canada opt for replacement surgery after having their breasts removed, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, doctors encourage women to see their primary care physician so they can schedule a mammogram. It may be a lifesaving decision.