Cancer Women's health

5 things to know about breast cancer

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s 5 things you should know about this common cancer.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. In Ontario, breast cancer happens mostly in women ages 50 to 74 (61 percent of cases). Regular breast cancer screening is important because it can find cancer early when it may be smaller and easier to treat.

Limiting alcohol can reduce your risk. A healthy lifestyle, including limiting alcohol, can reduce your risk of breast cancer. Other factors that may lower a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer are not smoking or using tobacco products, having a healthy body weight, and being physically fit.

Breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates out of all of the cancers in Ontario. Studies show that regular mammograms (and proper follow up testing for abnormal results) lower the risk of dying from breast cancer in women ages 50 to 74. Deaths from breast cancer in the Ontario population went down by about 47 percent in women ages 50 to 74 from 1990 to 2013. This decrease in deaths is probably due to improvements in breast cancer treatment and more women getting screened.

Between 1990 and 2017, more than 39,000 breast cancers have been found by the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP) through mammography, most of which were in early stages. From the start of the program in 1990 to July 2017, over 1.9 million women ages 50 to 74 had a mammogram through the OBSP, resulting in more than 7.4 million mammograms completed.  The OBSP recommends that most women ages 50 to 74 get screened every two years with mammography. Eligible women can make their own appointments or be referred for screening by a healthcare provider.

Changes in the breast are not always signs of cancer. All women – regardless of age or risk factors – should be breast aware. This means knowing how your breasts normally look and feel so you can tell if there are changes.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, talk with your healthcare provider about breast screening.  For more information, visit

About the author

Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program

Sunnybrook's Odette Cancer Centre is a co-leading Regional Cancer Centre of the Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program, which oversees the delivery and quality of cancer services for the more than one million residents of Central Toronto.