Breast cancer testing and prevention
Learn about when and how to get tested for breast cancer, and get tips to reduce your risk.
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About breast cancer
Breast cancer starts in the breast tissue. It occurs when abnormal cells in the breast tissue multiply and form a tumour that may spread.
Most cases are found in women ages 50 to 74.
In Ontario, breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates of all cancer types.
Why you should get tested
A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast that can find cancers, even when they are too small for you or your doctor to feel or see.
Getting regular mammograms — and proper follow-up testing for abnormal results — are important because they can:
- find cancer early when it may be smaller and easier to treat
- lower the risk of dying from breast cancer in women ages 50 to 74
Mammograms are not perfect tests. Some cancers may also develop in the time between tests. It’s important to talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about the benefits and limitations of testing for breast cancer.
When and how to get tested
Breast cancer can happen at any age. In most cases, it occurs in women over the age of 50. All women are encouraged to speak to their doctor or nurse practitioner about getting tested for breast cancer.
If you are 30 to 69 years old and confirmed high risk
The Ontario Breast Screening Program recommends getting a mammogram with an MRI (a test that uses radio waves and a magnetic field to create different images of the breast) or ultrasound (a test that uses sound waves to create images of the breast) every year.
High-risk status is based on a family or medical history of breast cancer and must be confirmed by a doctor or genetic counsellor. Breast cancer testing for women at high risk is covered by OHIP.
Talk with your doctor if you think you have family or medical history related to breast cancer or other criteria that may place you at high risk.
If you are 50 to 74 years old
The Ontario Breast Screening Program recommends getting a mammogram every two years. You don’t need a doctor’s referral and the service is covered by OHIP.
To book an appointment, contact your nearest Ontario Breast Screening Program location or call 1-800-668-9304.
If you are over 74 years old
Speak with your health care provider about getting tested for breast cancer.
If you choose to get tested, you will need a referral for a mammogram from your doctor or nurse practitioner. This service is covered by OHIP with a referral.
If you do not have a doctor or nurse practitioner, you can find one through Health Care Connect at 1-800-445-1822.
How to prepare
Try to book your mammogram for a time when your breasts are not tender. Most women’s breasts are tender the weeks before and after their period.
The day of your mammogram:
- Wear a two-piece outfit. You will be asked to remove your top before your mammogram.
- Because metals in certain products can show up on the X-ray picture, do not use:
- body lotions
- talcum powders
After you get tested
If your test results are normal, you will be notified by mail from Cancer Care Ontario. (If you no longer want to receive letters from Cancer Care Ontario, call 1-866-662-9233).
If your test results are not normal, the Ontario Breast Screening Program location (where you received your mammogram) will notify your doctor or nurse practitioner and help schedule a timely follow-up appointment. Both the program location and your doctor or nurse practitioner can arrange more tests if needed.
If you do not have a doctor or nurse practitioner, the Ontario Breast Screening Program will assign you a doctor who will follow up on your results.
OHIP pays for breast cancer testing at a publicly funded Ontario hospital or clinic if you’re either:
- referred by a doctor
- checked for breast cancer at an Ontario Breast Screening Program location
Tips to reduce your risk
- maintain a healthy body weight
- stay active
- reduce alcohol intake
- don’t smoke
- discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor or nurse practitioner if you are on birth control or hormone replacement therapy