63% of Albertan women aged 50-74 had a screening mammogram during 2015-2016.

Breast cancer screening.
Finding it early can make all the difference.

Just because no one in your family has had breast cancer doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. In fact, 80% of women who develop breast cancer have no family history at all. And you don’t need to be experiencing any unusual symptoms in your breasts to need a mammogram. Having routine mammograms is the best way to find breast cancer early, before symptoms develop and when treatment may work better. And when you consider that 1 in 8 women in Alberta will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime, breast cancer screening is one of the most important things you’ll ever do for yourself.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts that can find abnormal changes that may be too small for you or your healthcare provider to feel. They’re the most accurate way we have of detecting breast cancer early, when treatment has the best chance of working.

There are actually 2 kinds of mammograms:

  • Screening mammograms: These are routine checks used with women who aren’t experiencing any problems or symptoms with their breasts.
  • Diagnostic mammograms: These x-rays provide more detailed images of any changes in the breast found during a screening mammogram; they’re also used for women with a history or symptoms of breast cancer.


Why are mammograms so important?

Simply put, getting a mammogram is important because it can help save your life. 1 in 8 women in Alberta will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Screening mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when treatment is more likely to be successful.


Should you have a screening mammogram?

If you’re between the ages of 50 and 74, you’re at an age when it’s important to consider having mammograms regularly. This is because the risk of breast cancer increases as women get older.

Follow these guidelines to know when to get screened:

  • Women under the age of 40: The risk of breast cancer at this age is low. Generally, screening mammograms are not needed before the age of 40. However, if you’re concerned about having an increased risk of breast cancer, talk to your healthcare provider.
  • Women 40 to 49: Although the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, it is less clear that the benefits of mammograms outweigh the risks for women in this age group. Talk to your healthcare provider about your breast cancer risk and your need for mammograms.
  • Women 50 to 74: During these years, breast cancer screening has proven to have the most benefit. Plan on having a mammogram every two years or as decided by you and your healthcare provider.
  • Women 75 or over: You may continue to benefit from a regular screening mammogram. Talk to your healthcare provider.

Click on the button below to learn about the kinds of things that affect your risk


How do you get a mammogram?

Mammograms are done at specific radiology clinics and some hospitals, and are also available through a mobile program that travels to about 100 rural communities throughout Alberta.

The requirements for booking a screening mammogram in Alberta are different depending on your age:

  • Women aged 50 to 74: You can book a screening mammogram without a referral*.
  • Women aged 40 to 49: You need a referral from your healthcare provider for your first screening mammogram. You can book your own appointment after that by just providing the name of your healthcare provider.
  • Women aged 75 and older: If you choose to continue screening, you need a referral from your healthcare provider.

*In Alberta, some clinics may require women to have a healthcare provider in order to book a screening mammogram. This is so that the clinic knows who to send the results to and who will be doing the follow-up, if needed.

If you need a doctor, you can:

If you’re ready to book your screening mammogram, you’ll find a complete list of locations, including mobile sites here.

What are the risks of screening?

Mammograms are generally very safe. However, as with any procedure, there are a few risks to know about:

  • There’s a chance your mammogram will show no signs of abnormal changes even though breast cancer is present. That’s why it’s important to know your breasts and to let your healthcare provider know right away if you notice any unusual changes, even if your mammogram is normal.
  • You may have a false alarm which can be stressful. Something abnormal might be seen on your mammogram and, after more tests, no cancer is found. This may take 4 to 6 weeks to sort out and can cause worry. Sometimes, the worry lasts long after the test results are known.
  • Even though a mammogram found breast cancer, the quality of life or the number of years you live may not change. Some breast cancers found by screening would otherwise cause no problems because women would die of something else first. These breast cancers could be slow growing cancers. So, if the woman had not been screened, she might never have known she had cancer and would not have had treatment.


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