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Screening By Mammography

The aim of breast cancer screeningScreening:
The search for diseases such as breast cancer in people without symptoms. Mammography is an important tool for breast cancer screening and earlier detection.
is to reduce mortality ratesMortality (rate):
The number of people that die from a disease in a population over a period of time.
by detecting breast cancer earlier. When breast cancer is detected at an earlier stageStage:
A way of classifying breast cancer that describes how far a cancer has spread. It identifies whether breast cancer is at an early, locally advanced or metastatic stage. The stage of breast cancer can sometimes be represented as a number (e.g. between 0 and 4).
, most people have more treatment options, less invasive treatment and a better chance of surviving the disease.

Breast cancer screening looks for signs of breast cancer, usually by mammographyMammogram (also called mammography):
a low-dose X-ray of the breast. It is used to take images of the breasts and is an important screening tool for the earlier detection of breast cancer.
. Population-based breast cancer screening is the regular testing of women every one or two years to detect breast cancer earlier – before a woman notices any signs or symptoms of the disease, including tumoursTumour:
An abnormal mass of tissue that occurs when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumours may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). A tumour is also called a neoplasm.
that are too small to feel.

Mammography is the gold standard of breast cancer screening for women at average risk with no breast symptoms, and is the most commonly used and effective breast cancer screening tool. It is a screening method that uses low-dose X-rays to take images (or mammograms) of the inside of the breasts.

Mammography has been widely tested and proven to help reduce deaths from breast cancer in women who start regular screening from the age of 40. The benefits of regular breast cancer screening are shown from the age of 40 and increase as the woman ages. Earlier detection by mammography has helped to improve the length and quality of life of people diagnosed with breast cancer while reducing breast cancer death rates.

Breast cancer mortality rates have decreased by 43% since the peak in 1986 as a result of increased access to organized breast cancer screening programs and advancements in screening, diagnosis, treatment.

Wherever it is available, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages women to be screened with digital mammographyDigital mammography:
A low-dose X-ray similar to screen-film mammography, equipped with a digital receptor and a computer instead of film.
. Digital mammography has largely replaced screen-film mammography in Canada. This is because it is better at detecting breast cancer in women in their 40s, women 50+ who have not gone through menopauseMenopause:
A natural part of a woman's aging process, when the ovaries start to make less estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual periods stop. This change typically occurs between the late 40s and mid-to-late 50s.
, and women with dense breastsDense breasts (breast density):
Dense breasts have less fat and more glandular and connective tissue. A woman’s breast density depends on her age and genetic factors. Breast density is a risk factor for breast cancer. Having “dense breasts” is a clinical diagnosis that can only be assessed by mammography.

Making an informed choice

The decision to participate in breast cancer screening is a woman’s personal choice. To help you make an informed decision about what is right for you, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to learn about your breast health, breast cancer risk, ways to reduce your risk, and the benefits and limitations of breast cancer screening. To inform your decisions, we also encourage you to consider speaking with a health care provider.

Continue exploring this section to learn more about what to expect when having a mammogram, when to get screened and where to go, and about the benefits and limitations of breast cancer screening.



Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2010).  Earlier Detection and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: A Report from It’s About Time! A Consensus Conference. Toronto, ON: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. 

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. (2010).  Earlier Detection and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer. Recommendations and Scientific Review from It’s About Time! A Consensus Conference. Toronto, ON: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Canadian Cancer Society’s Steering Committee on Cancer Statistics.  Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014, Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society, 2014.

Pisano, E. et al. (2005) Diagnostic Performance of Digital versus Film Mammography for Breast-Cancer Screening.  New England Journal of Medicine, 353 (17), 1773-1783.

Smith, R. et al. (2012). Mammography Screening for Breast Cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 367 (e31).

Warner, E. (2011). Breast Cancer Screening.  New England Journal of Medicine, 365 (11), 1025-1032.