Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death among women in Canada.

Seventeen per cent of the cases of breast cancer in Canada happen in women under the age of 50, and yet the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Healthcare has made the decision to not proceed with systematic screening of women 40 to 49 years old despite mounting pressure from medical experts to lower the age.

Instead, the task force recommends that women 40 to 49 years old speak with their healthcare provider to determine if a mammogram is right for them. If this determination is made, a mammogram can be offered every 2 to 3 years.

Women 50 to 74 with an average risk of breast cancer are still able to access breast cancer screening without referral from a family doctor via the breast screening programs that are available in most provinces and territories across Canada.

Concerns About Recommendation

The task force is holding firm on its position due to concerns of over-diagnosis and unnecessary biopsies. Health Minister Mark Holland has expressed dismay over this decision and is opening it up to an external review.

While this is positioned as an improvement over the 2018 guidelines, it places the onus on the patient to ask to be screened through their family doctor rather than be automatically invited to provincial and territorial screening programs.

If you do not have a family doctor, a nurse practitioner can also make the referral for breast cancer screening for women aged 40 to 49.

Private Breast Cancer Screening

Some women feel more comfortable with more frequent screening and for those under fifty without a family doctor who do find a suspicious lump, waiting on the process to get publicly funded imaging may simply take too long. Even if you do find a lump and you’re under fifty you may be refused screening.

All of these cases may warrant the decision to visit a private clinic and pay out of pocket for diagnostic imaging.

Private imaging clinics offer comprehensive services such as 3D mammography, ultrasound and MRI’s. Before proceeding with a private clinic get a medical recommendation from your healthcare provider for guidance on the best screening methods for your needs.

Look for a clinic with proper accreditation and expertise and seek out a facility with the highest standards of quality and care.

Private clinics can often offer quicker appointment scheduling and more personalized, comfortable, and private care. Look for a clinic that also offers genetic testing and counselling should you and your healthcare team believe this would be helpful.

A google search will show you options for private clinics in your area. Expect to pay anywhere from $140 and up for a mammogram of one breast. Private insurance may reimburse the out-of-pocket cost. Be sure to check with your provider before proceeding with the appointment to know what your budget requirement will be.

Do you feel that breast cancer screening programs should be lowered to the age of 40? Send us an email at info@thehealthinsider.ca. We’d love to hear from you.

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