Ontario Breast Screening Program encourages women to get mammograms

As the Ontario Breast Screening Program celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s encouraging women across the province to get screened!

Before she joined the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP), Margot McAuliffe couldn’t remember the last time she’d thought about having a mammogram.

“I think I was in denial,” she says. “I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, and I didn’t feel a lump in my breast, so I didn’t think I had anything to worry about.”

In 2005, Margot learned about the OBSP through an awareness campaign at her workplace. With a group of colleagues, she made an appointment for a mammogram through the program. A couple of weeks later, she got a call from her doctor’s office: “I knew something was up,” she says.

At the age of 52, Margot was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Nearly five years later — after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy — she’s cancer free. And she’s an OBSP convert.

“The OBSP saved my life. They really did. If I hadn’t gone for a mammogram then, I don’t know when I would have bothered going or what stage the cancer would have been at when it was finally found.”

Margot is one of the thousands of OBSP success stories. Since the program started screening women for breast cancer 20 years ago, it has provided more than 3.6 million screens to over 1.1 million Ontario women aged 50 to 69. It has detected more than 19,000 cancers, the majority in early cancer stages. By detecting breast cancer early, the OBSP can give Ontario women the best chance of recovery.

In 2009 alone, the OBSP screened more than 396,000 women. As the program celebrates its 20th anniversary, it’s looking to build on its success. And people like Mary Ann Fossum are helping.

As a community spokesperson for the OBSP, Mary Ann speaks to women about their fears and feelings around mammograms, and encourages them to sign up. “Most women are positive about it, but some have reservations,” she says. “I tell them how reassuring it is to know, every two years, that things are clear on the mammogram.”

Mary Ann, 67, has been an OBSP client since 1994. Some women, she says, put off getting a mammogram because they feel awkward. “I try to tell them not to be embarrassed,” she says. “Everyone knows what the OBSP is for and I think it’s something all women need to do.”

“The OBSP technologists and staff are amazing people,” adds Margot. “They’re really aware of how nervous women can be, and they’re very comforting. They treat you with so much dignity.”

One of the best things about the program, Margot says, is that you can call directly to make an appointment: “You don’t need to go through your doctor, or even have a doctor. And once you’re in the program, they remind you about your next appointment.

“All women need to be aware of how their breasts look and feel and to report any changes to their health care provider,” says Dr. Verna Mai, Provincial Lead, Prevention and Screening, at Cancer Care Ontario. “By becoming OBSP clients, Ontario women can take an important step in becoming breast aware and taking care of their health.”

“Mammography is not a perfect test. For example, it doesn’t find every cancer. And sometimes it finds cancers that can’t be cured. “But mammography is still the best way we have to find breast cancer early, when it can be treated most effectively,” says Dr. Mai.


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