Ontario Breast Screening Program

November 17th, 2011

Empowering women to take control of their health

When St. Mary’s made the decision to replace its existing mammography machine with the latest digital technology in 2006, it was with the vision of providing women in Waterloo Region with enhanced access to the most efficient, most current, and most comfortable breast­screening capability possible, and to do so as part of Cancer Care Ontario’s Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP). “For our staff and radiologists, it wasn’t enough to simply replace our equipment,” says Uwe Claussen, Administrative Director of Radiology and Imaging for St. Mary’s. “We wanted to invest in a program that clearly exemplified our mission values, and which would ultimately improve the health and lives of women in our community.”

The community immediately rallied to support the hospital’s pursuit of OBSP designation, raising $800,000 in record time to purchase the Region’s first full­field digital mammography machine. With that in place, the team of staff and physicians in radiology began what would become a three­year goal – to achieve Accreditation from the Canadian Association of Radiologists, and partners with OBSP as an affiliate site.

“We are proud to provide women in our community with a program that lets them take control of their own health, empowers them to be their own advocates, and is accessible without a physician’s referral.”

“Often, health care is reactive instead of proactive. It can be controlling, rather than encouraging self-responsibility and a sense of empowerment in people, and for many people in Waterloo Region without a primary care physician, it can be difficult to access. The OBSP is the opposite of all of these things, which is why it is such a perfect fit at St. Mary’s,” Uwe notes. “We are proud to provide women in our community with a program that lets them take control of their own health, empowers them to be their own advocates, and is accessible without a physician’s referral.”

Sharon Lau­Wiffin, a warm and engaging woman in her early 50s, read about the launch of the program in The Waterloo Region Record, and called immediately to make an appointment. She was seen within two weeks. “I liked the fact that I could do something for myself, to take charge of my own health,” Sharon says. She describes her experience with the Program as seamless, easy, and stress free, despite the fact that it was a potentially life­altering test. “Too often, health care takes away our ability to be empowered and in control. Everything about this experience was amazing, and made me feel like an active participant in my own care.”

In addition to feeling empowered, Sharon felt that the technologist who performed her exam truly cared about her as a woman – and not just a ‘patient’. 

In addition to feeling empowered, Sharon felt that the technologist who performed her exam truly cared about her as a woman – and not just a ‘patient’. “The discussion that took place with Denise, my technologist, was excellent. She described how my treatment would be handled if something showed up on the mammogram. It was so reassuring to know that regardless of what my test showed, I would be able to handle the next step. The time and knowledge she shared with me was invaluable.”

Within days, Sharon had her results – which were negative and which provided a sense of relief. “You learn very quickly how hard the waiting is, but I knew that no matter what the results, I was in good hands with people who truly cared about me as a person, and not just a patient.” 

Since its launch, St. Mary’s OBSP has been inundated with calls from women like Sharon, and many others who are relieved that they are able to make an appointment without a physician’s referral. “Our bookings have far surpassed what we expected to see in our first months,” Uwe says. “We thought there would be a ramping up period while we tried to promote and raise awareness about the Program. We’re thrilled that people have embraced it.”

Breast cancer stats and facts:

Breast cancer remains the number one diagnosed cancer in women in Waterloo Region. Cancer Care Ontario estimates that in the next year 8,500 Ontario women will develop breast cancer and approximately 2,000 women will die from the disease. St. Mary’s hopes to do its part to reduce that number by increasing the number of women who are screened for breast cancer in Waterloo Region.

Cancer Care Ontario’s target for the Ontario Breast Screening Program is to have 70% of women aged 50+ participate in regular screening by the year 2010. “The research is unequivocal,” Uwe notes. “Early detection saves lives. A mammogram is an essential diagnostic tool in the fight against breast cancer.” St. Mary’s has had a mammography program for more than 15 years and while it retains a traditional mammography service, the addition of OBSP is essential in enabling the hospital to expand its reach and ability to provide quality, compassionate and patient­focused care to women in the community. In addition to screening, OBSP ensures that follow­up care is coordinated for women with abnormal mammograms. “St. Mary’s performs approximately 400 breast cancer surgeries per year,” explains Uwe. “Being a designated OBSP site builds on our vision to provide a continuum of care that focuses on the needs of our patients.”

Finding cancer early is important. Breast screening and better treatments are helping to reduce deaths from cancer.

The Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) is a program of Cancer Care Ontario. OBSP provides top­quality breast screening services for women 50+ who have no previous history of breast cancer.

To book an appointment at St. Mary’s OBSP, call 519-­749-­6456.