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Targeted Women and Test Frequency

When women in Quebec turn 50 (and then once every two years), they receive an invitation by mail to take part in the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program (PQDCS). Services are available in all regions throughout the province.

“What is particular about the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program is that the letter of invitation, besides providing complete information and the necessary phone numbers to make an appointment, also serves as a prescription that allows women to request a screening mammography directly.”, Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec.

The breast cancer incidence is higher in women between 50 and 69 years of age. In fact, the majority of breast cancer cases are among women over 50 (Statistics). Main health providers, including the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, therefore recommend that women between 50 and 69 have a mammography once every two years.

  • Even if you are under 50, your doctor may recommend that you have a mammography at regular intervals if your personal risk is considered to be higher than average. If you haven’t already done so, talk to your doctor about your risk factors and the advantages and drawbacks of having a mammography at your age. Learn more about risk factors.
  • If you are over 70ask your doctor about how often you should be having a mammography.

What is Mammography?

A mammography is a radiography of the breast tissue taken with low-dose radiation, to obtain detailed images called mammograms, from various angles. This examination often takes less than a minute, and it’s done as follows.

The woman stands in front of the mammography device, with each breast placed first between two plastic plates, and then compressed between these plates. This produces clear images and minimizes the amount of radiation used. The woman must stand completely still while the images are taken.

There are two types of mammography:

  1. Screening mammography: is taken once every two years in women between 50 and 69 years of age who have no signs of breast cancer. This kind of mammography helps detect abnormal masses or areas of breast tissue that might be too small to detect when breasts are examined by hand.
     
  2. Diagnostic mammography: is taken for women who already have signs of breast cancer such as a mass or abnormal breast tissue. These signs may be detected either by the woman herself through breast observation, by a doctor during a clinical breast examination, or through a screening mammography. This more in-depth, slightly longer test makes it possible to produce a greater number of more detailed mammograms, and to do so from different angles than is possible with the screening mammography.

Please note that you can resume your daily activities right after having the mammography.


Drawbacks and Advantages of Mammography

Some women may experience discomfort or pain when their breasts are compressed during the mammography. However this sensation lasts only a few seconds. Note that the compression can neither cause breast cancer nor cause an existing tumour to grow or spread.

You can reduce the painful sensation by following the tips listed under How to Get Ready for a Mammography. If you are really uncomfortable before the images are taken, let the technician who is taking the radiography know, so she can adjust the pressure.

Whatever the discomfort you may feel, don’t forget that having a mammography every two years can save your life: studies show that this practice reduces the mortality rate for breast cancer in women between 50 and 69 years of age.

No screening cancer test, including mammography, is infallible. For example, a mammography may show the presence of a non-existing cancer, that is, a false positive result. Conversely, it may fail to detect real cancerous cells.

The following table shows the main differences between breast cancer incidence and mortality in women who participate in a screening program and in women who don’t.

Estimated impact on women observed over a 20-year period

On 1,000 participants in a screening program

On 1,000 non-participants in a screening program

Number of women who will have at least one complementary examination over 20 years (one additional mammography until biopsy)

495

325

Number of confirmed cancers (23 additional cancers may be found through screening)

77

54

Number of women who will die of breast cancer (there will be 7 fewer deaths from breast cancer in women who are screened)

13

20

Number of women treated for non-life-threatening breast cancer (these are cases of over-diagnosis)

10

0

 


Sources: The Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services and the Institut national de la santé publique du Québec

Overall, mammography is the most recognized and reliable method for detecting breast cancer, and research indicates that women who have mammographies on a regular basis are the least likely to get false positive results.

Moreover, it can be very reassuring to learn that no anomaly has been detected during a mammography.

It is possible for breast cancer to develop during the two-year period between two mammographies. However, practising regular breast observation and having a clinical examination increase the chances of detecting such a cancer before the next mammography. These practices also increase the chances of detecting the cancer when it is small, and therefore easier to eliminate.

Generally speaking, the earlier a cancer is detected, the greater the chances of recovering from it.


How to Get Ready for a Mammography

  • It is best to have a mammography seven to ten days after the first day of your period, when your breasts are less sensitive. 
  • During the five to seven-day period before the mammography, avoid foods and beverages that contain caffeine, such as cola and chocolate. This can help reduce discomfort during the test.
  • On the day of the test, do not use deodorant, antiperspirant, body lotion, or talcum powder on your underarms or breasts. Wear a top and bra that are easy to remove, and don’t wear necklaces or other cumbersome jewelry.

Where to Have a Mammography in Quebec

If you are between 50 and 69 years of age, you will receive a letter from the Quebec Breast Cancer Screening Program inviting you to have this examination done free of charge at one of the 93 designated screening centres. Click here to find the name and contact details of the designated screening centre nearest you. Women who are not eligible or who do not participate in this program can get a mammography through a doctor’s prescription.

For more information about mammography, visit mammo.ca or depistagesein.ca.