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Quebec expands referral-free breast cancer screening to 70- to 74-year-olds

Quebec is expanding its program offering free mammograms without a doctor's referral to those between 70 and 74. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters - image credit)
Quebec is expanding its program offering free mammograms without a doctor's referral to those between 70 and 74. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters - image credit)

Quebec is expanding its breast cancer screening program, which offers free mammograms without a doctor's referral, to those between the ages of 70 and 74. Until now, the Québec Breast Cancer Screening Program was only available to those between the ages of 50 and 69.

The tests are done every two years at a designated screening centre, known in French as a centre de dépistage désigné (CDD).

Letters inviting those newly eligible to make an appointment at a recognized radiology clinic started going out last month.

The province hopes to offer up to 90,000 additional mammograms every year under the current expansion.

The government and the provincial health institute are also looking into expanding the program to people as of 40. A report is due later this year.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among Canadian women. About 8,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed every year in Quebec, 80 per cent of which are in people over 50.

Cédric Beaudinet, a spokesperson for the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation, said the move is welcome but could put a strain on the province's restricted health-care resources.

He says age is only one risk factor, and that patients should have their risk level evaluated on the basis of multiple factors like genetics, lifestyle and environment.

Trailing other provinces

Beaudinet said Quebec is behind other provinces when it comes to screening.

B.C., P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Yukon already allow people to book an appointment for a mammogram as of the age of 40 without a doctor's referral. Ontario will follow suit this fall. New Brunswick also announced it will extend screening to people in their forties within the next few weeks. Alberta recommends screening from the age of 45.

The head of the breast imaging section at the Ottawa Hospital, Jean Seely, says early detection is key to survival and can cut mortality rates in half. A recent University of Ottawa study showed women in their 40s who live in provinces that offer routine screening had lower rates of advanced breast cancer.

"Right now women in their 40s are paying a very heavy penalty for not being screened," she said.