(Provincial Health Services Authority)

VICTORIA -- With Oct. 1 marking the first day of breast cancer awareness month, the BC Cancer Agency is urging women to keep on top of their regular mammogram examinations.

According to the health organization, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among Canadian women, affecting more the 26,000 women across the country annually, including 3,500 British Columbians.

That's why the cancer agency is recommending that women schedule mammograms every few years, especially if they are between the ages of 40 and 75.

"Screening mammography programs have reduced the risk mortality from breast cancer and we can often find cancers two to three years before they became physically detectable by a woman or her doctor," said Vanessa Bernstein, medical oncologist at BC Cancer Vancouver Island.

"That allows women to have more options for therapy, perhaps less intensive surgery, and definitely better outcomes."

Bernstein also recommends that women with relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer schedule mammograms every year, while women aged 50 to 75 schedule an appointment once every two years as risk for cancer increases with age.

"You don't need a doctor to refer you, you can refer yourself to a screening mammogram," said Bernstein. 

"There are over [36] screening centres in B.C., you can go on screeningbc.ca, you can phone and you can book your own appointments. That is the best thing that a woman can do to reduce her risk of dying of breast cancer."

Bernstein said that the examinations are easy and that staff at the screening centres work to make patients as comfortable as possible. Women looking to get a screening will only be treated by female radiology technicians, she added.

To book an appointment, people can visit the BC Cancer Agency website here, or call them at 1-800-663-9203