Screening reports show many Canadians still waiting too long for final diagnosis of breast and colorectal cancer

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer has released reports looking at breast cancer screening (in 2011 and 2012) and colorectal cancer screening (in 2013 and 2014) across the country. Data from both reports suggest that while wait times for follow-up procedures to confirm diagnosis are improving, they continue to fall short of national targets.

For breast cancer screening, the percentage of women receiving a final diagnosis within the target timeframe of five or seven weeks (depending on whether a biopsy was required) increased from 79% and 55%, respectively, but are below the national target of 90%.

For colorectal cancer screening, wait times for a follow-up colonoscopy after an abnormal fecal test for the majority of people, ranged from 104 to 151 days in nine reporting provinces. This does not meet the national target of 60 days.

Longer wait times to confirm diagnosis can mean delayed treatment which often prolong unnecessary stress for the individual and can impact outcomes. Age-standardized mortality has decreased for both types of cancer since 1992, but the data show more can be done to improve the process from screening to diagnosis.

The two reports Breast cancer screening in Canada and Colorectal cancer screening in Canada look at the performance of organized screening programs in participating provinces and territories.

Other key findings from the reports include:

Breast cancer screening

  • Of all women aged 50 to 69 (eligible age range) receiving a screening mammogram, 54% received their screening in organized provincial and territorial programs, with the remaining number screened outside of organized programs.
  • For women who participated in organized screening programs across Canada, the percentage of woman called back after a screening mammogram due to an abnormal result has increased, but the percentage of women who were ultimately confirmed to have cancer by follow-up tests remained largely unchanged. This suggests that more women who do not have cancer are being called back for follow-up diagnostic tests, leading to an increased risk of harm to the patient due to complications from biopsies and/or unnecessary radiological exposure as well as avoidable use of system resources.

Colorectal cancer screening

  • The percentage of Canadians aged 50 to 74 (eligible age range) participating in organized screening programs is improving, but is still short of the national target of 60%.
  • While organized colorectal cancer screening programs have been introduced in nine provinces, implementation varies with some programs in the pilot phase. Development of programs in other provinces and territories are in varying stages of implementation and assessment.

Data included in both reports were gathered from provincial and territorial cancer agencies/programs, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada, and the Canadian Community Health Survey.

Read the reports

To view the full report, “Breast cancer screening in Canada: monitoring & evaluation of quality indicators – results report (2011 and 2012)”, visit:

To view the full report, “Colorectal cancer screening in Canada: monitoring & evaluation of quality indicators – results report (2013 and 2014)”, visit: