KAWARTHA LAKES-Early detection saves lives and that’s one of many reasons Stephanie Leahy loves her job.
“It’s nice to work with patients and make a difference in their lives,” Leahy told Kawartha 411 News. “We see mammography saving lives every day, it’s like we are doing preventative maintenance.”
Leahy has been doing mammograms for eight years. For the last two years, she has been sharing the role of Interim Breast Health Navigator at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay.
“As a Breast Health Navigator, I spend half of my time doing mammography and other half tracking patients, people diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I set them up with surgeons and family physicians as well and track people who are being followed with benign findings. I help them book breast-related imaging and have biopsies done.”
And she is busy. Officials say breast cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian women, with the exception of non-melanoma skin cancer. While it can also be found in men, male breast cancer is a very rare occurrence. Breast cancer starts in the cells of the mammary gland. Breast tissue covers a larger area than just the breast, extending up to the collarbone and from the armpit to the breastbone. In 2019 an estimated 26,900 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,000 will die of it according to Health Canada.
Ross Memorial Hospital is an affiliate of the Ontario Breast Screening Program, imaging patients with state-of-the-art digital mammography and breast MRI units. Leahy and her colleagues do approximately 7,000 exams annually.
“It’s very important we like to stress the point of early detection,” Leahy says. It is important starting at aged 40 they can come in every year and we compare them, that’s how we can tell if there are small changes and catch them at the beginning.”
In fact, Leahy says today’s technology can pick up a cancer the size of a pen tip.
“It’s constantly being improved better tissue differentiation. From film in 2009 to digital today, it’s more sensitive, much clearer images.”
Breast cancer occurs most often in women 50 to 74 years of age, but many eligible women within this age group still do not participate in breast screening according to Ryan Young, Communications at Ross Memorial Hospital. It is recommended that eligible average-risk women get screened with a mammogram every two years.
Ross Memorial offers screening mammograms to women between 40 and 49 as well. These women require a requisition from their family physicians and are screened on an annual basis. The incidence rate of breast cancer for ages 40-44 is twice that for ages 35-39. Research shows the risk of developing breast cancer continues to increase as you age.
Women over 74 can still have a mammogram, they just require a requisition as well.
Leahy recommends women do monthly self-breast exams in addition to regular mammography.
“Especially with COVID taking care of your own health has become very important on a month to month basis, looking for changes in yourself.”
Ross Memorial also offers a high-risk program through the OBSP for women who have a greater than 25% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer determined by a genetic program or who have a genetic mutation such as BRCA 1 or 2, for example.
Health Canada says breast cancer accounts for approximately 25% of new cases of cancer and 13% of all cancer deaths in Canadian women. 1 in 8 women are expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and 1 in 33 will die of it.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all women are encouraged to take care of their breast health. Ask your health care provider about breast screening today.
If you wish to schedule a mammogram, please contact RMH’s mammography booking clerk or breast health navigator at 705-328-6175.