You are here: Get Screened / Lesbian, bisexual and queer women / Breast Cancer / Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

I have a positive test. What now?

Taking proactive steps like cancer screening takes a lot of courage, so it’s understandable if you feel scared or worried. It is important to remember that abnormal results don’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Abnormal test results can often be the result of benign fluid-filled sacs called cysts, or calcium deposits. If cancer is detected, finding it early means that you will have more treatment options that may be more effective than catching it at a later stage.

If your test results show an abnormality you will be called in for follow up tests. Follow up tests could include a:

  1. diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms are the most common follow-up test. It is more thorough than a screening mammogram and focuses on suspicious areas for more detailed images and views from different angles. Diagnostic mammography is usually done on both breasts so that doctors can compare the breast tissue of both breasts.
  2. breast ultrasound. Sound waves are used to create an image of your breast. This helps detect whether a lump is fluid-filled or solid.
  3. biopsy. This is a procedure that involves removing a small sample of tissue from the area with cell abnormalities. The sample will then be examined under a microscope in a lab.

Other types of testing may be required depending on the initial results from your mammogram. Your doctor or OBSP staff will let you know what further testing is necessary.

What is an MRI and who needs one?

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a test that takes a very detailed picture of your breast and can help doctors find signs of breast cancer in people at high risk. An MRI takes multiple images of your breast tissue by using a powerful magnetic field, radio pulses and a computer. An MRI does not use radiation. It can take about 30 45 minutes to do, and is often done on women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

What are the risks to getting a mammogram?

We know that screening can find cancer early when treatment is more effective, and therefore reduce the number of deaths due to breast cancer. But mammograms aren’t perfect. Knowing what risks are involved in getting a mammogram will help you make the right screening decisions for you. These risks include:

  • increased exposure to radiation. While radiation doses in mammography are very low, repeated exposure to x-rays does increase the risk of developing cancer. The benefits of finding breast cancer outweigh the risk of repeated exposure to radiation.
  • false positive test results. This means that a result shows that there is cancer or precancerous conditions when there aren’t any. This can result in stress and unnecessary invasive procedures.
  • false negative test results. This means that test results show that there are no signs of abnormal breast tissue even though breast cancer is present. It’s important to know your breasts and make sure you’re talking to your doctor about any changes, even if you screen regularly and your mammograms come back normal.
  • some cancers may develop in the interval between screens and therefore may not be detected immediately.
  • some cancers that show up through screening would have normally not progressed to the point of having any symptoms. This means that the treating of precancerous conditions is sometimes unnecessary.
Can I book a mammogram if I don’t have an OHIP card?

Yes. Even if you don’t have an OHIP card, you can still be screened through the OBSP. When you arrive at the screening site, the staff will ask you to provide:

  • evidence of landed immigration status
  • an Ontario address where you live for at least six months of the year OR a letter from the government that states you’re on your three month waiting period for coverage

If you are not eligible for OHIP because you are new to the province, or you’re returning to the province and you’re in your three-month waiting period, you can still be screened through the Ontario Breast Screening Program (OBSP)

For a list of all OBSP sites in Ontario, click here.

If I’m seeing a homeopathic doctor or a naturopathic doctor for my health, do I still need a mammogram?

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that every woman over 50 should be screened for breast cancer with a mammogram every two years. While it’s important to take care of your health in the ways that feel good for you, including holistic, naturopathic, herbal or homeopathic medicines, it is still important to get screened.

Can I get a mammogram if I have nipple piercings?

It is not necessary to remove nipple rings as long as they do not interfere with viewing your breasts.

My breasts are really small. Can I still get a mammogram?

Even if your breasts are small, you can still get a mammogram.

Can I get a mammogram if I have breast implants?

Yes, you can and if you’re over 50, it is recommended that you do. The OBSP program does not provide screening for women who have breast implants. Your family doctor can refer you for screening instead. When getting a mammogram, the implant is moved out of the way and breast tissue is pulled forward and into view. Sometimes, more than four pictures are taken to make sure as much of the breast tissue is examined as possible. Studies show that women with breast implants are diagnosed with breast cancer at a similar stage and have a similar prognosis as women who do not have breast implants.

What is a breast self-exam and should I be doing them?

Knowing your breasts is one of the most important parts of having healthy breasts. Getting to know what’s normal for you and contacting your doctor about changes, as well as getting regular mammograms, are key to early detection.

The best way to learn your breasts is by looking and feeling them. It is important to look and touch the whole area of your breast tissue up to the collarbone, under the armpits and including the nipples.

Lumpy and tender breasts are a normal part of a hormonal cycle. Often times, breasts can feel this way right before your period. Also, breast tissue changes with age, and so may look and feel different over time. If you notice any changes, especially ones that are possible signs and symptoms of breast cancer, then talk to your doctor.

What is a clinical breast exam and should I get one?

A clinical breast exam (CBE) is a thorough examination of the breast by a trained healthcare professional to check for abnormalities. If the healthcare provider is male, you may request a female staff person to sit in on the session.

The Canadian Cancer Society no longer promotes CBE as a method of screening. However, some healthcare professionals will continue to use it as part of an overall breast health plan.

The best available scientific evidence shows us that mammography is most effective screening test and has been proven to reduce breast cancer deaths.

How is a clinical breast exam performed?

There is usually no special preparation for a CBE. The woman removes her clothing from the waist up. A sheet or gown covers her while she is on the examination table.

First, the healthcare professional looks at the breasts. This should be done with the person sitting, and then when she is lying down. The healthcare professional looks for:

  • changes or differences in the shape of the breasts
  • areas of fullness or thickness in only one breast
  • differences in skin colour, temperature and texture in the breasts, such as redness, increased warmth or dimpling of the skin
  • rashes
  • visible lumps or swelling
  • nipple discharge (fluid leaking from the nipple)
  • nipple changes, such as pointing inward (inverted) or scaling especially if these are new

Secondly, the healthcare professional feels (palpates) the breast and the nipple. This is done with you lying down, which flattens the breast tissue over the chest wall. The entire breast area is carefully examined using the fingers. The breast extends from the middle of the chest, into the armpit and up towards the collarbone. The entire area should be examined.

The healthcare professional feels for:

  • lumps, including their size, shape and whether or not they move within the tissue
  • hardening or thickening in the breast tissue
  • tenderness or pain
Is it true that anti-perspirants cause breast cancer? What about bras?

There is no evidence that anti-perspirants, bras, breast implants or abortion increase rates of breast cancer. Learn more about some other cancer myths and controversies.

Does binding increase my chances of getting breast cancer?

There is no evidence to suggest that wearing a binder will increase your risk of breast cancer. However, there are other risks to binder usage that you should be aware of, such as skin irritation, difficulty breathing, and lymphatic flow issues if binders are worn too tightly. It’s helpful to take your binder off when you sleep so that your chest has some room to breathe.

Where can I find an LGBTQ friendly healthcare provider?
To find an LGBTQ friendly healthcare provider, visit the Rainbow Health Ontario provider directory.

For more information contact our Cancer Information Service at
1 888 939 3939
TTY 1-866-786-3934