Each year the third Friday in October is recognized as National Mammography Day in the US. It is a good reminder for Canadians that mammography increases the chances of early detection of breast cancer.
It is estimated that one in eight Nova Scotia women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Screening mammograms are considered the international gold standard for detecting breast cancer early. Regular breast cancer screening can find cancer when it is small, easier to treat, and there are more treatment options.
The onset of COVID-19 led to challenging times for both patients and staff at the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program. As a result of the pandemic, screening mammograms in the province were postponed starting in mid-March. This enabled staff to focus on patients with new breast problems while there was limited capacity for appointments.
As of September, all sites are once again conducting screening mammograms. New measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of patients and staff. These new safety measures include:
- Anyone booked for a screening mammogram is called and screened for COVID-19 24-72 hours prior to their appointment and are screened again when they arrive at their appointment.
- Anyone entering a screening facility is asked to wear a mask and sanitize their hands.
- Waiting rooms have reduced capacity to ensure physical distancing and appointments are spaced to make sure physical distancing can be ensured at registration and in the waiting rooms.
- Patients are asked to arrive to register at the exact time they are instructed to reduce the number of people waiting in the waiting room.
- At most sites plexiglass barriers have been installed at registration desks and staff will be wearing a mask and practicing good hand hygiene.
- Appointments are spaced to make sure staff have time to do enhanced cleaning of all touch surfaces between patients.
“Patients are becoming more comfortable coming for their screening exams,” says Trena Metcalfe, Program Manager at the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program. “It is understandable that some women are still feeling uncomfortable attending appointments at this time, but they are encouraged to talk to the mammography technologists about their concerns so that they can help them feel more comfortable.”
“Being a woman is the biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer and your risk increases as you get older,” says Metcalfe. “There are other factors that can increase your risk such as family history in a first degree relative. Mammograms are not perfect so all women should be aware of what is normal for their breasts and have any new signs or symptom investigated by their primary care provider, even if they have recently had a normal mammogram.”