The Ottawa Hospital is trying to encourage more new Canadian women to get mammograms.

The participation rate among that group is just over 50% which well below the provincial target of 80%. That decision saved Geety MacLean's life.

It is days like this, watching her son make his first interception that MacLean feel lucky to be alive. 

MacLean, who is originally from Iran, got her first mammogram in 2006 at the urging of a colleague who had breast cancer, never suspecting anything. She was 45 years old at the time. 

‘That was the beginning of the end,’ says MacLean, ‘The mammogram showed cancer in my right breast.’

Statistics show that female immigrants and new Canadians have among the lowest participation rate for mammograms.  A study from Ryerson University supports those numbers.

The study found three distinct reasons as to why new Canadians were less likely to get mammogram: they believed God had decided their destiny and no test could prevent that from happening; that cancer was likely a death sentence anyway and that many of them were so preoccupied caring for their families that they had no time to care for themselves.

The Ottawa Hospital today opened a drop-in clinic at the Riverside site for the first time ever for women to get screened for both breast cancer and cervical cancer.  Those women covered by OHIP who perhaps did not have a family doctor could simply show up at the hospital between 1 and 8 p.m. today without a requisition to get screened.  Oncology residents were offering their services to perform the pap smears.

Dr. Jean Seely is a physician radiologist and lead of the Regional Breast Imaging Program. She explains that they want to increase the participation rate among several groups; those women 50 to 54 who are eligible for a self-referral to the Ontario Breast Screening Program but who currently are not availing themselves of the opportunity.  That age group has the lowest group participation rate at 49%.  Women in the highest immigration percentile have the lowest participation rate at just over 52%. Dr. Seely explains that for many new Canadians, the word ‘screening’ doesn't even exist.    

‘If you can imagine,’ says Dr. Seely, ‘women from these countries tend to know of cancer as a death sentence, so they're terrified and the  idea of going for a screening study to find cancer is something that has a lot of fear for them.’

After her cancer surgery and treatment, Geety MacLean spread the word among her friends and relatives, even encouraging her mother, who would never have had a mammogram, to get checked. 

‘It was because of that my mom found lump in her breast,’ says MacLean, ‘and thank goodness they got to it early.’

Geety says just like her son's first interception, it is one success at a time; spreading the word to save lives.