Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which occurs each year in October, aims to encourage women to undergo regular cancer screening and mammograms in an effort to detect early signs of breast cancer.
According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), the province-wide Alberta Breast Cancer Screening Program (ABCSP) was developed in hopes of providing education and increasing the rate of women undergoing regular breast examinations.
Bonnie Chiang, program manager of ABCSP, said screening is the best way to detect breast cancer early, which is when treatment has the best chance of being successful.
“What we’re looking for with [a mammogram] is to find any abnormal changes in the breasts that are usually too small to be felt by the woman or their health-care provider,” she said. “It’s why we encourage women if they have any questions about screening to talk to their [doctor] about whether that is right for them.”
The program is targeted toward women between the ages of 50 and 74 – a period of time when screening is recommended every two years. Eligible women can self-refer or request a mammogram without a requisition from their physician by attending a participating radiology clinic.
However, women outside that age range are also encouraged to speak to their health practitioner regarding their breast cancer risk and whether a mammogram would be required in their case.
“Multiple studies that have shown that [screening] does decrease mortality and increases survival from cancer versus cancer found in later stage,” Chiang said.
She added most women diagnosed with breast cancer are not shown to have a family history of the disease, highlighting how screening is even more important for all women in this age group.
And while AHS no longer encourages at-home self-examinations, Chiang said women should get familiar with what is normal for them.
“We generally encourage breast awareness,” she said. “We are suggesting people should be familiar with how their breasts normally look and feel.
“If they are seeing any changes, they should talk to their health-care provider right away.”
According to Whitney Issik, the Alberta government’s associate minister for Status of Women, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an opportunity to show support and spread awareness for those who might benefit from cancer prevention and early detection.
“Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women,” she said. “Many of us know someone affected by this disease and this month is a reminder to support those in the fight against breast cancer, celebrate the survivors, honour those who have been taken too soon, and to never give up hope.”
Issik added that measures must continue to be taken to help prevent the disease.
“As breast cancer survival rates increase due to advancements in research, prevention, early detection and innovative treatment options, those affected show us their strength and the increasing possibility of living incredible lives beyond cancer,” she said.
“To those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, please know there is hope, there is support for you, and we admire your strength.”
Chiang said while some women may be hesitant to attend a screening clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic, measures have been put in place to keep patients and staff safe and to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Those who are eligible for a mammogram are encouraged to visit screeningforlife.ca to find a radiology clinic near them.
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