Amplifying the voices of individuals who may face greater challenges in accessing essential breast health services is something Dr. Mojola Omole, a Scarborough Health Network (SHN) general surgeon and breast surgical oncologist, and Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO) executive board member, is passionate about.

This was the focus of the Breast Health and Awareness Workshop on October 28, where Dr. Omole was a featured panelist. Hosted in partnership by SHN, The Olive Branch of Hope, the BPAO, and TAIBU Community Health Centre, the workshop brought together over 75 community members for Breast Cancer Awareness Month to discuss the realities of breast cancer development and screenings. Participants enjoyed insightful conversation from breast health experts and breast cancer survivors, a mindfulness meditation session and a dance class, while 24 individuals took the opportunity to have an on-site mammogram.

As a standout figure in the world of advocacy for racialized patients and physicians, Dr. Omole’s work extends well beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. Her aim is to dismantle stigma, encourage open conversations, and empower racialized individuals to prioritize their health year-round—especially in areas where there is inadequate culturally appropriate care, such as breast health and oncology.

Many racialized women are under-informed about the importance of breast health screenings and the resources available to them. During the Breast Health and Awareness Workshop, Dr. Omole, who completed her medical education and residency in Canada and previously practiced as a surgical oncologist in Nigeria, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, discussed the fact that individuals who are Asian and/or descend from West Africa develop breast cancer earlier and more frequently in life than their white counterparts.

Studies reveal that Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) often experience barriers when it comes to getting mammograms and breast cancer diagnoses, especially in early stages. Here in Scarborough, 75 per cent of residents are South Asian, Chinese, Black, and Filipino.

“There is a breakdown in communication that fails our patients, which can lead to delayed diagnoses and treatment, and poor outcomes,” said Dr. Omole.

“Often, women, nonbinary and transgender people – especially racialized – simply aren’t believed enough when it comes to their pain and their experiences; and patients aren’t being communicated to effectively about mammograms and breast health.”

Helping those underrepresented in breast health services and awareness partly requires structural change. The Ontario government recently announced it will lower the age for government-funded mammograms from 50 to 40 years old, effective fall 2024.

Dr. Omole and many healthcare providers in Ontario agree that the lower breast cancer screening age is essential; not only will the change help patients receive cancer diagnoses when they are in earlier, more treatable stages, but it will also be more inclusive of ethnic communities who suffer from earlier breast cancer development and delayed diagnoses as a result of racial stigma.

“Asian and West African diaspora present with breast cancer earlier, from the early- to mid-forties. Not being able to proactively self-refer for breast cancer screenings is a problem if you don’t have a family physician,” Dr. Omole said in an October 30 interview with CBC Toronto regarding the lowering of the breast screening age.  

In Scarborough, 15 per cent of residents do not have a primary care provider—that amounts to nearly 100,000 people. That is why SHN offers breast cancer screening without a physician referral; each of Scarborough’s three hospitals are designated Ontario Breast Screening Program sites, an Ontario Health initiative that permits trusted providers to screen without referrals.

For all racialized community members, as well as Scarborough physicians and healthcare providers, Dr. Omole stresses the importance of encouraging the patient voice when it comes to breast health.

“If patients have any sort of concern or discomfort with their breasts, it is their right to ask to see a specialist. And as providers, we need to be listening and supportive of their needs. Together, we can help dismantle the racial barriers in breast health screening and diagnoses.”

Events like the Breast Health and Awareness Workshop underscore the importance of patients feeling informed, supported and safe in seeking the care they need. The success of this workshop has already led to the planning of upcoming breast health awareness events aimed toward other underrepresented racialized communities.

Get screened today at any of SHN’s Breast Health Clinics

Scarborough Health Network has Breast Health Clinics at the Birchmount, Centenary and General hospitals, where women who are 50 to 74 years old can book their own mammograms. To schedule an appointment, please call 416-431-8167.