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Digital mammography delayed

Last province in nation to start making switch to latest technology

A woman preparing to receive a mammogram.

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A woman preparing to receive a mammogram. (BREAST CANCER SOCIETY OF CANADA)

A government initiative to improve breast cancer detection by converting analog mammography machines to digital technology has been delayed by more than a year.

Manitoba is the last province in the country to introduce the newer technology. Some provinces have fully converted to digital mammography, while others have a combination of old and new.

The province had planned to begin phasing in the new machines last year -- it now has 20 analog mammography machines, including two mobile ones.

Now it says the first digital machines won't be in place until a year from now, and a full conversion won't take place for two years.

"It is taking longer than we anticipated for those first digital machines to be put in. We thought it would be done by last year. I'm disappointed, frankly, that that didn't happen," Health Minister Erin Selby said.

Selby blamed IT issues for the delay.

"What I've been told is the different clinics have different programs and that all of those computers need to be able to talk to each other," she said.

Three years ago, a study showed Manitoba had the highest breast cancer mortality rate in Canada along with Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, Progressive Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger said.

"That in itself should be good motivation for this government to not drag its heels on (improving its mammography technology)," she said.

On its website, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages women to be screened using digital mammography where possible. "Digital mammography is gradually replacing screen-film mammography in Canada. This is because it is better at detecting breast cancer in women in their 40s, women 50-plus who have not gone through menopause and women with clinically diagnosed dense breasts," the foundation says.

Digital mammography is also seen as superior for image storage. And because images can be shared electronically, the technology allows medical professionals to easily obtain advice on an image from colleagues.

Driedger said there's no reason Manitoba should be the only province in Canada not to have digital mammography. She said the Tories have been asking the government to introduce the technology for seven years.

"If other provinces can do it, why do we have to be dead last in Canada to provide women with the best level of early detection that there is?" she said.

"Newfoundland has 14 (digital mammography machines). Why can't Manitoba have one?"

Selby said while she's disappointed at how long the conversion process is taking, it's important the government gets it right.

"We're talking about breast cancer. We can't have mistakes. It needs to be perfect. It needs to be working without fault," she said of a new digital system.

The minister said women should rest assured they can still get their screening done. She said Manitoba has the quickest turnaround in the country for mammogram results.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Benefits of mammography

  • Earlier detection of early-stage breast cancers: If breast cancers are detected when they are small and have not spread, most patients can be treated successfully.
  • Better treatment options: If results indicate early-stage breast cancer, in most cases, this leads to more treatment options with less invasive forms of treatment (i.e. lumpectomy rather than mastectomy).
  • Reduced death and disability from breast cancer: In most cases, the earlier detection and timely treatment of breast cancer reduces the risk of death or long-term disability.

Limitations of mammography

  • Some test results show signs of cancer that are ruled out when further testing is done (this is called a false positive). About one in 10 women may be called back for more testing.
  • Other test results miss breast cancer (this is called a false negative). These mammograms appear normal even though breast cancer is present. Screening mammograms miss one in nine breast cancers. This type of screening result may lead to a false sense of security and a delay in diagnosis and treatment.
  • Some breast cancers that are found by mammography would never become a health problem in the woman's lifetime (i.e. some cancers grow very slowly).

Mammography cannot tell which cancers will not threaten the woman's health from those that will be harmful and must be treated. So all signs of breast cancer are treated as harmful. This limitation is known as over-diagnosis.

-- source: Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

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Updated on Monday, April 28, 2014 at 6:55 AM CDT:
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