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Screening Mammography FAQs

Q: Who is eligible to use SMP?

A: If you are a BC woman between the ages of 40 and 79 with a health care provider (doctor, nurse practitioner or naturopath), you can book a screening mammogram directly through the Screening Mammography Program without a doctor's referral.

Patients may continue to self-refer after the age of 74 but will no longer receive reminder notices. It is best to discuss the benefits and limitations of screening with your primary care provider prior to booking your next sscreening appointment.

Q: What is the difference between Diagnostic Mammography and Breast Screening?

A: Both Diagnostic Mammography and Breast Screening are specialized x-ray procedures of the breast (mammograms).

Diagnostic Mammograms are for women who are having a specific breast problem such as lump, unusual nipple discharge, or pain, or have had previous breast cancer or have breast implants. This procedure requires a referral from your family Doctor. Diagnostic Mammograms are available at MedRay Imaging.

Screening Mammograms (Breast Screening) are for women with no known breast problems, who do not have breast implants and who have not had breast cancer. This procedure does NOT require a referral from your family doctor, rather you can refer yourself. You will need to give us the name of your family doctor when you make your appointment since a report is sent to them. These examinations are performed at the Screening Mammography Program of British Columbia centres throughout the province. The Coquitlam SMPBC is located in the Gordon Professional Centre, accessed from the parking lot entrance only. There is no access to SMPBC from the main building lobby or through MedRay Imaging.

Occasionally when a Screening Mammogram is performed further work-up is required. In this instance you may be referred for further testing – for a diagnostic mammogram or breast ultrasound or both.

Q: Does radiation cause cancer?

A: There has never been a case of breast cancer proven to be caused from radiation exposure during a mammogram. We are all exposed to background radiation - it exists in the ground we walk on and the air we breathe. Radiation from a screening mammogram is about the same as six months of radiation exposure from daily living. If you would like to know more about radiation safety, please visit: 

Q: Do I need to use a thyroid guard when I have a mammogram?

A: The screening Mammography Program does not recommend the use of thyroid guards for screening mammograms because they can interfere with capturing a clear breast image. The guard can limit the technologist's ability to place all of the breast tissue on the compression plate. As a result, some breast tissue may be missed or more x-rays may need to be taken.

Also, the screening mammography x-ray directs the radiation beam towards the breast tissue, so the thyroid is not directly exposed to the radiation beam. The thyroid can be exposed to "background scatter radiation", which is the same amount of radiation a North American would be exposed to from 30 minutes of natural background radiation.

Q: Are Screening Mammography (Breast Screening) and Diagnostic Mammography both available at Gordon Professional Centre? 
A: Yes. Diagnostic Mammograms are performed at MedRay Imaging in Suite #100. MedRay is located through the main building entrance off the west side (Gordon Avenue).

Screening Mammograms are available only at the Screening Mammography Program of BC which is located in Suite #102. The entrance to the SMPBC is off the parking lot in the southeast corner of the building. There is no access to MedRay from SMPBC or vice versa.

Q: Why would my doctor give me MedRay's telephone number if I need a screening mammogram?
A: Physicians' offices may not know that Screening Mammograms and Diagnostic Mammograms are managed separately. Please check with your physician to ensure that the correct procedure is ordered. Remember that for Diagnostic Mammograms at MedRay Imaging you must have breast symptoms, previous breast cancer or breast implants. You must have a completed referral requisition from your doctor.

Remember that Screening Mammograms are routine examinations available at the SMPBC and patients should not be experiencing breast symptoms. You do not require a doctors referral for Screening Mammography.

Q: Why do I need another Mammogram when I just had one?
 A: Usually this is because further detail is required after having a Screening Mammogram. You can discuss the specific reasons for this with your doctor.

Q: Why do I need a Mammogram and an Ultrasound?
 A: Sometimes it is necessary to use other imaging techniques to get the best possible information about your breast.

Q: My mother died at an early age from breast cancer. At what age should I have my first mammogram?
 A: This should be discussed with your family doctor. In British Columbia breast screening should be started in all women by age 40. For certain women with a higher risk of developing breast cancer the first mammogram may be done at an earlier age even if you have no breast symptoms. If you are under 40 years of age the mammogram must be done in a Diagnostic Centre (not at SMPBC).

Note: An exception occurs when you are having an Ultrasound of the Breast. You cannot book your own appointment for these exams. Your doctor should fax the referral requisition to 604.942.4612. Once the requisition is received we will contact you by telephone to schedule the examination.

Screening Mammograms do NOT require a referral from your family doctor. You may arrange your own appointment at Gordon Professional Centre SMPBC by calling 604.927.2130. Please have your BC Care Card or your SMP I.D. number ready. You can also book Breast Screening appointments through the SMP central booking line at 604.660.3639 if our phone line is busy.

Q: Do you have an E-Mail address so that I can scan the requisition and send it to you myself?
Not at the present time.