Provincial promise for more breast cancer screening not enough, oncologist says

Women who are in their 40s are being overlooked by the Ontario government, says one oncologist.

Last week, the Ontario budget included a promise of $15 million over the next three years for 90,000 breast cancer screens.  In Ontario, women aged 50 and over are eligible for provincial screening.

But Dr. Martin Yaffe from Sunnybrook Hospital says the Ontario budget missed out on an important aspect when considering women for screenings.

“They completely ignored women in their 40s,” he said.

Women in their 40s and under can only get screened for breast cancer by recommendations from their doctors. If they are not at a high-risk, they are not eligible for screening.

“In 10 years in Ontario, you might expect 700 women to die because of cancer in that age group,” Yaffe said. “And those deaths could be prevented if those women were allowed access to the screening program.”

Yaffe said 16 per cent of deaths from breast cancer are women in their 40s.

“Most of those women don’t have any special risk factors,” he added. “They are just women, and they are in their 40s.”

MJ DeCoteau, founder of ReThink Breast Cancer, an organization that aims to make women aged 18 and up more aware of the disease, says a gap remains in targeting younger women.

But, she said, the Ontario budget does have an upside: more money for screenings.

“We are pleased to see that there are funds towards high-risk women,” DeCoteau said. “It’s one of the best tests we have right now.”

Yaffe said many women aren’t aware of the province’s screening program at all.

“I think they need to promote these programs more aggressively,” Yaffe said. “My sense is that at least in the breast cancer program, that hasn’t been done nearly as effectively as it should be.”

Sandra Palmaro, CEO of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation for the Ontario Region, said in a press release that the new funds are an opportunity to make a difference to and to save lives.

“We’re pleased to see breast cancer on the government’s agenda and high-risk women highlighted in the Ontario budget,” she said.