Dense Breasts Canada urges P.E.I. to take more steps to detect cancer

A national health care group is pleased Prince Edward Island has made some changes to its breast cancer screening program, but it says more could be done.

‘About half of breast cancers are missed in dense breasts’

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

A national health care group is pleased Prince Edward Island has made some changes to its breast cancer screening program, but it says more could be done.

Health PEI is notifying women of their breast density after a mammogram. Women with the densest breasts -— Category D — are now called back for yearly mammograms.

Dense Breasts Canada says those are great first steps.

"About half of breast cancers are missed in dense breasts," said Dr. Paula Gordon, a breast radiologist and a medical advisor for the group.

"We've also known, since the '70s, that women with dense breasts, especially Category D, are at a higher risk of even getting cancer."

If women are informed about their dense breast tissue, they may choose to make lifestyle changes, says Dr. Paula Gordon. (Submitted by Dense Breasts Canada)

Dense Breasts Canada would like to see women with dense breasts, a characteristic that can decrease the effectiveness of mammograms, offered annual ultrasounds as well. Doing both tests will detect more types of cancer, said Gordon.

Because women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer, they might also be advised about lifestyle changes that could reduce that risk.

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Getting regular, moderate exercise.
  • Minimizing the use of hormones after menopause.
  • Minimizing alcohol intake.

Gordon said early detection not only provides better treatment options for patients, but also in the long run will save the health system money.

Yet in an emailed statement to CBC News, Health PEI questioned the evidence suggesting a need for regular ultrasounds.

"At this time the research and evidence supporting population-based ultrasound for breast density is inconclusive," the statement said.

Health PEI said women are notified of the risks associated with dense breasts, and ultrasounds are currently being performed based on breast density at the request of the radiologist or referring physician.

Diagnostic technologies and research continue to develop, said Health PEI, and it will continue to review suggestions, recommendations, and research.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Island Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?