Since the first letters containing breast density results were sent out with their mammogram reports, women across the province have been contacting Kathy Kaufield, a breast cancer survivor, to tell her how thankful they are for the information.
“Women are taking pictures of these great letters that New Brunswick is sending out, they’re emailing them to me, they’re sending them to me and they’re grateful for the information.”
Kaufield, who led a #TellMe #DisMoi breast density notification campaign to have this information provided to woman, said every time she gets an email she is thrilled.
“If you reach one woman and maybe that’s the woman who finds her lump early and survives her cancer,” said Kaufield at Wednesday’s announcement on the new initiative with Health Minister Dorothy Shephard, also a breast cancer survivor.
Shephard thanked Kaufield for her determination with the online campaign. “I believe it will help save lives.”
“Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among New Brunswick women and is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death,” said Shephard. “Sharing breast density results with women will better inform and support them in monitoring their breast health.”
The Progressive Conservatives promised to include the breast density results with the mammogram reports after women have their routine screening in the 2018 election.
“This is vital information women should know but unfortunately many don’t,” said Kaufield.
Kaufield said it’s only by a fluke that she found her lump after she was given the all-clear following her regular mammogram screening in June 2015.
“My dense breasts hid my cancer on a mammogram. I had no idea that having them is a bigger risk factor than family history for cancer”
The mother of two was told an aggressive, grade three tumour had been overlooked in the screening.
“Before cancer I didn’t know anything about dense breasts.”
Women with high breast density have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
“I think that being vigilant with your self exams is very important once women get this information.” said Kaufield.
She also advises women to have a discussion with their doctor about what it means.
“Perhaps that means extra screening and even lifestyle changes that you can make.”
Radiologists say dense breast tissue can obscure cancers on a mammogram, but the majority of Canadian women are unlikely to be aware of the risk or their breast density.
An estimated 80,000 New Brunswick women have dense breasts, and 18,000 of them would fall into the “highest density” category, where the accuracy of a mammogram is about 50 per cent, according to studies.
Province leads commitment
Kaufield said New Brunswick has been a leader in committing to providing women their breast density results and other provinces have followed its lead.
The letters containing the information began going out after mammography screenings resumed following the interruption of services due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational material is also included.
The province’s breast cancer screening program encourages women between 50 and 74 to be screened every two years at one of the 14 screening mammography sites across the province.
Kaufield said she thinks women with dense breasts should have supplemental screening that’s being done in other provinces.
“I also believe that screening for women needs to start at 40.”
About 48,000 women in New Brunswick are screened annually for breast cancer.