Celebrating Mammography: Women’s History Month

Before the 1960s, there was little research on mammography as a breast cancer diagnostic tool and it was generally not used in Canada for this purpose. In March 1963, Dr. Henrietta Banting and Dr. Elizabeth Forbes started a new clinical study at the Cancer Detection Clinic (CDC) at Women’s College Hospital (WCH). They wanted to determine if mammography could be used in the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. Over the next two years, more than 1,400 women took part in the study and each participant was screened for breast cancer using mammography. The results concluded that a combined approach using both mammograms and physical exams was the most accurate in the early detection of breast cancer (Forbes and Banting, 1967). Following the conclusion of the study, the CDC became a site of medical research for breast cancer screening at a time when women’s cancer research was often overlooked. 

Left: Photograph of Dr. Henrietta Banting, Director of the Cancer Detection Clinic at Women’s College Hospital, 1960s. Right: Breast imaging at Women’s College Hospital, 2020s

Today, Women’s College Research Institute continues the legacy of Henrietta Banting as a world leader in understanding the genetics of breast and ovarian cancer. Researchers at the institute are also studying the connections between cancers and other illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A revolutionary virtual program located at WCH is The Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers. The centre’s priorities are to help individuals reduce their risk of getting cancer, diagnose symptoms that are suggestive of cancer, provide access to screening so we can detect cancer early and offer wraparound support after a diagnosis. The centre draws together excellence in research, clinical care, innovation and education for women’s cancers, driven by a powerful vision to give every woman every chance to access the highest standard of cancer care no matter where she lives in Canada. 

This National Mammography Day we extend our gratitude to Henrietta Banting for her trailblazing efforts that have paved the way for accessible cancer screening and care.