Ontario is lowering the age for regular, publicly funded breast cancer screenings from 50 to 40, which Health Minister Sylvia Jones says will help with early detection.

Jones is set to make the announcement later today and says the expansion will mean an additional 130,000 mammograms are completed in the province each year.

The move follows a draft recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force earlier this year that said screenings in that country should start at 40 instead of 50, because evidence suggests that would have a moderate benefit in reducing deaths.

The change in Ontario means that starting in the fall of 2024, eligible women, non-binary, trans and two-spirit people between the ages of 40 and 74 can self refer for a mammogram every two years.

People can already get regular mammograms and breast MRIs between the ages of 30 and 69 if they qualify as high risk, such as those with a family history of breast cancer or people who carry certain genes known to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The ministry says that between now and next fall, sites that offer breast cancer screening will hire new staff and work with the government to develop a public reporting system so patients can see provincewide wait times.

"Nearly 12,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and we know early detection and increased access to care saves lives," Jones said in a statement.

"That is why our government is taking this important step today to expand the Ontario Breast Screening Program to connect an additional one million women to the services they need to ensure timely access to treatment and save lives."

Sherry Wilcox, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s, said this change is important.

"I am so grateful that, with this announcement, other women may not have to endure the pain of a later diagnosis as I have," she wrote in a supportive quote to go along with Jones' press release.

"Research shows that early detection of breast cancer results in less aggressive therapy and reduced mortality rates -- this announcement will save lives."

A spokesperson for Jones said Ontario Health is working on determining how many staff will need to be hired, so was unable to say at this point how much funding will go toward the expansion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023