In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Canadian Association of Radiologists (CAR) is urging health centres across the country to maintain breast screening during the next stage of the pandemic and the group is encouraging patients to take charge of their healthcare journey by not forgoing their mammography exams.

Research is showing a disturbing lag in patient diagnosis and treatment due to the pandemic. According to the group’s new report, Radiology Resistance Now and Beyond, the “disruption to health care services affected diagnostic imaging examinations, tests, and procedures.” For instance, during the first wave of the pandemic annual mammography exams were brought to a halt and thousands of non-urgent procedures were postponed in order to minimize the further spread of COVID.

As we move into the second wave, it’s important to keep pace—breast cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic and nor should education, testing and treatments. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among Canadian women. Today, more than ever, people are surviving breast cancer, however early detection through screening is vital.

Hand in hand with this is a need to educate women (and men), as well as healthcare providers and caregivers, about the risks and symptoms, as well as new therapies for breast cancer. Knowledge distillation is key in promoting positive patient outcomes.

For instance, while making healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, there are other factors, including family history, which can impact the onset of cancer. For Canadian women this is especially true with breast cancer.

“One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Considering these odds, women should take an active role in their health,” Dr. Jean Seely, President of the Canadian Society of Breast Imaging, Head of Breast Imaging at the Ottawa Hospital and Regional Breast Imaging Lead, Ontario Screening Program, said in a statement.

In fact, the CAR and the Canadian Society of Breast Imaging (CSBI) are recommending that women 40 and older have an annual screening exam to help with early detection of disease and improve overall patient outcomes.

Even before the pandemic outbreak wait times for medical imaging in Canada far exceeded the acceptable 30-day standard. (Value of Radiology Report, Part II, 2019). Today, due to ongoing backlogs and, in some cases, the fear of COVID-19, many patients are waiting much longer or avoiding appointments altogether: We need to break this cycle.

“This is an issue for women 40 and older, especially those who are at risk for breast cancer. If Canada were to scale back medical imaging procedures in this second wave, the consequences would be dire for Canadian women,” said Dr. Seely.

Armed with the knowledge, patients can work with their healthcare providers to understand their risks and seek early intervention—now, more than ever, it’s essential that people know the facts and take control of their healthcare journey.

“When detected early there is a 98% survival rate for localized breast cancer. Patients can schedule a mammogram through self referral to a provincial screening program or through their family doctor,” said Dr. Seely.