To Screen or Not To Screen: Understanding the current Canadian Screening Guidelines for Breast Cancer

Under 50? Confused about whether you should have a regular mammogram? You are not alone!

In November 2011 the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (CTFPHC) released their updated guidelines on breast cancer screening. The reaction was a heated debate on the pros and cons of mammography, with doctors, breast cancer organizations and breast cancer survivors on both sides of the issue.

Rethink Breast Cancer agrees with the CTFPHC guidelines and we’re here to help clear up any confusion around the question: Should I get screened? 

Here are some things to remember.

  • It is always your personal decision to be screened for breast cancer
  • The guidelines are for screening tests and not for diagnostic tests. What’s the difference? Read the definitions of screening and diagnostic mammograms.
  • No breast screening test is 100% accurate and a screening test may show cancer when it isn’t actually there, or it may miss cancer that is present.
  • Screening Guidelines are for women of average risk. If you are at higher risk due to family history or another factor, you may need to be screened more often than the recommended guidelines. Consult a doctor to determine your personal risk.
  • It is important to become familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can easily notice any changes. Report any breast changes promptly to your doctor. To help stay on top of your breast health, download Rethink’s Your Man Reminder app.

So what are the Guidelines?

  • Women Under 40: As in the past, no screening recommended. If you notice any breast changes, consult a doctor right away.
  • Women 40-49: Screening is no longer recommended for this group. A review of the evidence shows that there is no mortality benefit to screening for women of average risk in this age category.
  • Women 50-69: Have a routine screening mammography every 2 to 3 years.
  • Age 70 or older: Talk to your doctor about your risk factors and how often you need a mammogram.
  • Make sure your mammogram is done at a clinic accredited by the Canadian Association of Radiologists (not all clinics offer the same quality of service)

One size does not fit all. Treatment for breast cancer is moving towards personalized medicine that takes into account an individual’s unique biological features. The same approach can be taken for screening. Based on your personal risk factors for developing breast cancer as well as your personal preferences and understanding of the pros and cons of breast cancer screening, it is your decision whether to screen or not to screen.