Advocates using P.E.I. election to secure support for breast density notification

Dense Breast Canada - a group that advocates for women to be told their breast density, and associated risk of breast cancer - is using the Island’s provincial election to secure commitments from each party leader, in the hopes that it’ll help speed policy changes they say will better protect women.

'Would you rather be diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 4?'

Dense breast tissue appears white on a regular mammogram in the same way that cancer does, so if a woman has dense breast tissue it can be harder for a radiologist to detect cancer. (Christer Waara/CBC)

A group that advocates for women to be told their breast density and associated risk of breast cancer is using P.E.I.'s provincial election to seek commitments from each party for a policy change they say will better protect women.

Right now Health PEI recalls women for yearly mammograms if they have with a breast density of greater than 75 per cent, but the women are not told why.

Health PEI said last fall it was planning a review of the provincial breast cancer screening program, looking at how and when information about breast density is shared with patients. 

It's like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm.— Janet Gallant

"We thought yeah, we're going to get this done here in a matter of months, and then the election was called and it all goes by the wayside," said Jennie Dale, co-founder of Dense Breasts Canada.

She wants every woman who has a mammogram to be told her breast density — and she hopes whoever is elected to govern the province next will continue that process.

'Will you now fulfill that promise?' 

According to Dale, if the election hadn't been called in P.E.I. the Island would likely have been the first in Atlantic Canada to tell women their breast density.

Dense Breasts Canada co-founder Jennie Dale is fighting to make sure more women and doctors understand the risks of dense breasts. (Submitted by Dense Breasts Canada)

Breast density awareness advocates have now taken to social media to seek commitments on the matter from each political party. 

Dale said a similar campaign helped bring attention to the importance of breast density notification in New Brunswick during that province's election in 2018.

"When it was finally determined who was going to be the governing party, we were able to say hey, you promised this in your election platform, will you now fulfill that promise?" said Dale. 

Dense breast tissue can obscure cancer in a mammogram image. (Submitted by Dense Breasts Canada)

All four political parties on P.E.I. have committed to breast density notification for women who are screened — so Dale said she hopes the election just means a delay.

"It's recognized as a significant risk factor. We do have to catch up in Canada and it's great to see provinces like P.E.I. committing to this," said Dale, noting that currently B.C. is the only province to give breast density information to women with their mammogram results. 

'Everybody needs to know'

Janet Gallant is an Island woman who has been lobbying the province to notify women of their breast density for several months now. She said she'll keep at it until the message is clear that breast density makes it hard to detect cancer. 

Janet Gallant is an Island advocate for breast density notification, and is grateful to hear all four parties commit to notifying all women of their breast density after a mammogram. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"It's like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm," said Gallant, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in 2016. 

Gallant said if she'd known her breasts were dense she would have started breast-cancer screening sooner, and her cancer may have been caught while it was still treatable. 

"Would you rather be diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 4?" said Gallant. "Everybody needs to know what their breast density is." 

Gallant said recent conversations with the province's Department of Health were positive, and she's pleased that all four parties support sharing breast density information with every woman who gets a mammogram. 

"It makes me happy, I'm excited," said Gallant. "I have complete faith in the work they have done so far, I'm optimistic that it will happen with any government." 

Gallant said prior to the election call she anticipated news of a policy change soon — and she remains optimistic it will happen before the end of 2019. 

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Jessica Doria-Brown


Jessica Doria-Brown is a videojournalist with CBC in P.E.I. Originally from Toronto, Jessica has worked for CBC in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Ontario.