In October, the world comes together to observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month. During this international campaign, individuals from all over the world unite to generate funds for breast cancer research, provide aid to those grappling with the disease, and endeavour to increase public awareness regarding the prevalence of these cancers and the importance of early detection.
Despite notable advancements in breast cancer detection and treatment, the statistics continue to paint a grim picture. In Alberta, one in seven women is at risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime.
Screening tests are indispensable tools in managing one's health, providing the most effective means of early breast cancer detection when treatments stand a better chance of success. Presently, in Alberta, the guidelines recommend that women aged 45 to 74 undergo screening every two years. Notably, these guidelines were revised last year, lowering the starting age for regular screening from 50 to 45, a change grounded in fresh evidence affirming that the benefits of early screening outweigh any potential risks. Additionally, women between the ages of 40 and 44 may opt for annual screening, as guided by their healthcare provider's recommendations.
Women in rural areas of Alberta have a valuable resource at their disposal in the form of Alberta Health Services (AHS) Screen Test Mobile Mammography Services. This program, launched in 1991, utilizes two mobile trailers equipped with digital mammography machines, which visit 121 rural communities throughout the province.
The Screen Test Mobile Mammography Service trailer will visit Swan Hills from November 14 - 15. The Grizzly Gazette spoke with Chidinma Okoli, Health Promotion Facilitator For Screen Tests with AHS, to learn more about the mobile screen test services.
Okoli detailed the straightforward process of the mobile screen test. Patients begin with a brief health screening questionnaire and paperwork before moving to the trailer's mammography machine for the test, which typically takes around 20 minutes. Test results are usually available within two weeks, with copies sent to both the patient and their doctor.
For the appointment, AHS recommends wearing a two-piece outfit to facilitate the test, advising against using perfume, antiperspirant, deodorant, or body powder, as they can impact the mammogram results.
Okoli said, "Mammograms are very safe tests, and it's important that anyone within the ages of 45 – 74, that's women and transgender, call to book an appointment and get screened every two years or as decided by them and their healthcare provider. Routine mammograms can save lives because, at that point, the cancers are still small, and they can be detected, and there are more treatment options for the individual."
Okoli also stresses the importance of being mindful of any changes in the breasts, including lumps, unusual changes in the shape or size, nipple discharge, crusting or an unusual rash on the nipple. If one experiences these or similar changes to their breasts, they should speak to their healthcare provider immediately.
"We don't want anyone noticing any symptoms waiting for the Screen Test mobile unit. Because the Screen Test mobile unit comes once every year, and then what we do is we screen, and it's for those who have noticed no changes at all." Okoli said. "So, if anyone has noticed any changes or has concerns, it's best that they just speak with a healthcare provider, and they can quickly refer them to a diagnostic facility."
People who would like to be tested are encouraged to make an appointment in advance; walk-ins will be accepted if there is time in the schedule to do so (priority will be given to scheduled appointments). Women between the ages of 45 and 74 can self-refer for their screen test without needing a doctor's referral. Women aged 40 and 44 will need a doctor's referral for an appointment. Please contact the booking line at 1 (800) 667-0604 to arrange an appointment. For additional information, visit the AHS test screening website (screeningforlife.ca/breast/screen-test-mobile-clinics).
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette