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Cancer care

Provinces move to ensure quality of mammography

Most provinces have improved the certification of machines used in breast cancer screening programs. According to the Canadian Association of Radiologists, the number of unaccredited mammography machines now stands at 79, compared with 154 last spring.

Last year, an investigation by the Globe and Mail newspaper revealed that thousands of women were being directed to facilities using equipment that might be too old or of questionable quality, or where the facility’s accreditation with the CAR had lapsed.

“Since the article ran, and the pressure, the Canadian situation drastically changed,” Normand Laberge, chief executive officer of the CAR, told the Globe.

Manitoba and New Brunswick quickly moved to make accreditation mandatory, with the latter province setting a target for the end of this fiscal year. All machines in Newfoundland are now accredited.

Quebec has long demanded breast-screening mammograms be done on accredited machines, as do Alberta and Nova Scotia.

Ontario, however, continues to have the highest number of unaccredited machines, with 34 of them located in hospitals and clinics, Mr. Laberge said.

David Spencer, spokesman for Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman, said the province is “looking at options to bring all mammography sites in the province in line with a comparable set of accreditation standards.”

Accreditation involves testing machines and scrutinizing the qualifications of the people operating them and the doctors interpreting the mammography films.

While unaccredited machines in clinics and hospitals may be performing excellent mammography, there is no external proof of that, experts say.

Of the 656 mammography machines across Canada, 79 are unaccredited. Of those, 20 are likely disconnected and the remaining 59 are being used on patients, Mr. Laberge said.

Typically, facilities will post a sign saying they have accreditation. However, the radiologists association includes a list of accredited facilities on its website, http://www.car.ca. Facilities not listed could also be in the process of gaining accreditation.

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