The head of regional cancer program is urging women to take up Ontario’s offer of a free breast cancer screening amid significant declines in testing over the past year.
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) manager Riley Crotta says 32,000 fewer mammograms completed in the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant (HNHB) region in 2020 compared to 2019 and that the number continues to grow as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.
Screenings essentially shut down amid the first wave of the pandemic to make room for health care capacity for potential COVID patients, but have returned in July 2020 with infection control measures.
“I think it’s also fair to say that many of us have had some changes and demands on our time over the last 18 months,” Crotta said.
“Lots of people added childcare responsibilities with kids staying home from school and many of us, particularly our frontline workers, have been working really long hours and maybe haven’t had the time or the opportunity in our schedules.
HHS estimates just under 40,000 in the HNHB region who were due for a mammogram over the past year, didn’t get one. Crotta suggests that potentially equates to hundreds of undetected cancers.
“We’re talking about people that are due for a mammogram, between 50 and 74 years of as years of age, don’t have any personal history of breast cancer, feel fine and don’t have any symptoms,” said Crotta.
Typical mammograms take only about 15 minutes using low-energy X-rays to create images later analyzed for abnormal findings. Crotta insists the procedure has “very mild” discomfort.
“You know, it is a little bit of a squish,” Crotta said.
“If it’s something that you’re feeling anxious about, have a conversation with the technologies that we’re doing and have someone sort of walk you through what to expect and make sure that it’s a comfortable experience for you.”
Health Canada estimates one in eight women in the country will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, but also says its one of the more treatable cancers if found early.
In Ontario, average risk candidates aged 50 to 74 that have had breast cancer in their family history are eligible for a free breast screening with a mammogram every two years.
Information about breast cancer screenings and arranging appointments can be done with the regional cancer program website.