Exciting Times at the Screening Mammography Program

March 12, 2014

Hi!  I’m Christine Wilson, Diagnostic Radiologist and Medical Director of the Screening Mammography Program (SMP) with the BC Cancer Agency. 

I’ve been the Medical Director since the summer of 2011 and it’s been a wild ride!  It began with a review of the screening mammography guidelines in early 2012.  I was part of a committee that examined all the evidence. This was just after the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care published their recommendations in November 2011, recommending that women aged 40-49 and 75+ should not participate in screening. Since that time, there have been many questions about when women should participate in screening. 

As some of you may be aware, B.C. just released its new breast screening policy a few weeks ago. The updated policy has an increased emphasis on helping women make an informed decision about screening. While no referral is required, women between the ages of 40-49 and 75+ are encouraged to discuss the benefits and limitations of screening mammography with their doctors. The policy remains unchanged for women in our target age group – women ages 50 to 69. These women stand to benefit the most from screening, however B.C.’s breast screening participation rate for the 50-69 age group is currently 52 per cent, which is below the national target of 70 per cent.

In order to reach this target group of women, we have launched a new campaign called “Take Care of the Girls.” The campaign encourages women age 50 or older to get a mammogram.

The BC Cancer Agency Screening Mammography Program has been in operation since 1988. We have 37 fixed screening centres throughout the province and three mobile units that travel across BC to many rural locations, including First Nation communities to help reach more isolated women. We screen almost 300,000 women every year! There are more than 80 radiologists that are active screeners, and to ensure quality we monitor their reporting and cancer detection rates, giving every one of them an annual report card.

Everyone involved in the Screening Mammography Program takes screening seriously because we are the first line in early cancer detection. In 2012 we found 1,264 new breast cancers in women across the province. Almost 62 per cent of these cancers were found in early stage, and over 80 per cent of the total cancers detected were found in women aged 50 years or older. These numbers clearly demonstrate the importance of screening regularly when you turn 50. Regular mammograms can find cancer when it is small – when there are more treatment options and better outcomes.

A screening mammography Educational Forum is held every other year for all our screeners and technologists to keep everyone up to date in new developments in technology and important changes in policy – such as our guideline review.

Over 65 per cent of our screening mammography machines in the province are now digital, and the rest of the analog machines will be updated over the next three to four years.  We plan to have a new digital mobile unit up and operating by the summer, on Vancouver Island; and the other two vans will be replaced over the next few years.

This is an exciting time for the Screening Mammography Program as we move into the future with new technology and continued research about who best to screen and how.  We are grateful to provide this important service to the women of B.C.

For more information on the program, please visit www.screeeningbc.ca/breast.

Christine Wilson