TORONTO - Women as young as 30 who are at high risk for breast cancer will now have more access to early detection as part of an expanded screening plan, Ontario's health minister said Tuesday.

"Breast cancer in younger women is often more aggressive and more life-threatening, so it's very important that we do what we can to improve screening for those women," said Deb Matthews.

There will be about 90,000 more breast cancer screening exams as part of the plan, which Matthews said will amount to 500 women each year who will have their cancer detected earlier than they normally would.

The program is part of a $15-million, three-year plan promised in the 2011 budget. It is aimed at women 30 to 49 who are at high risk of getting breast cancer due to genetic factors or family history.

It will only focus on high-risk women in the younger age group, adds Matthews, because that's where experts say the screenings are most needed.

There will also be additional exams for all women aged 50 to 69, who are currently covered under the program.

The plan will kick off July 1 at 19 sites, beginning with Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.

It includes both an annual breast MRI and a mammogram, because that combination is believed to be the best way to detect breast cancer for women who are at high risk.

NDP health critic France Gelinas praised the Ontario Breast Screening Program, or OBSP, but said she was disappointed that there will be a lack of access for women in northeastern Ontario.

"Having to take a huge trip to Toronto for a breast MRI is a huge barrier to access," Gelinas said.

"It's one thing to have a fabulous program like the OBSP that does its best to reach out to women, but when the technology is not there in a huge part of our province, then I take issue with that."

Under the expanded program, women who think they may be at risk can visit their doctor for a referral to find out if they fit the criteria.