Advocates in Nova Scotia Call for Increased Cancer Screening for Women with Dense Breasts

Breast Density and Its Challenges

Breast density refers to the composition of glandular tissue, fibrous connective tissue, and fatty tissue in the breast, as observed on mammograms. Dense breast tissue contains more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue, making it difficult to interpret mammograms, as both dense tissue and abnormal changes, such as tumors, appear as white areas.

X-rays of two breasts. The one on the right has more white in the image which is obscuring a tumour that also appears white.

Dense Breasts as a Risk Factor

Additionally, dense breasts are considered a risk factor for breast cancer, adding to the importance of effective screening.

Advocates Push for Ultrasounds and MRIs

Jennie Dale, the executive director of Dense Breasts Canada, is advocating for the inclusion of ultrasounds and MRIs as standard screening methods for women with dense breasts in Nova Scotia. She argues that these imaging techniques can detect irregularities that mammograms might miss, potentially saving lives and preventing advanced-stage cancer diagnoses.

Access Barriers and Personal Solutions

However, in Nova Scotia, these options are not currently available. Elizabeth Shein, a breast cancer survivor, faced challenges when she requested an ultrasound after learning about her breast density in 2019. Her request was denied, prompting her to seek annual ultrasounds at a private clinic in Toronto for peace of mind. Shein believes that Nova Scotia needs to catch up with advancements in breast cancer screening.

The Medical Perspective

Dr. Siân Iles, a medical advisor for the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program, offers a contrasting view. She believes that there is insufficient evidence to support additional screening for women with dense breasts, emphasizing the need for population-based, publicly funded screening tests to be supported by strong peer-reviewed evidence. She highlights that breast density is just one of the factors considered in Nova Scotia’s existing high-risk screening program, which provides mammography and MRI screening to eligible individuals.

The Call for Progress

Despite Dr. Iles’ stance, Jennie Dale argues that Nova Scotia has a history of leadership in breast cancer screening, and it is time to take proactive measures by offering additional screening options to women with dense breasts. Currently, women over 40 can self-refer for mammograms, but advocates believe that expanding screening options for this specific group is essential to improve early detection and ultimately save lives.

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