Breast Density Information to be Shared with all Women in BC


BC Cancer’s Breast Screening Program will be the first screening program in Canada to report breast density results directly to all women and their health care providers with their screening mammogram results. Previously this information was available by request to the Breast Screening Program.

This change will help women better understand their breast cancer risk and how best to address it. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and when it is caught in the early stages it is more treatable and has better outcomes. Every year, 3,500 women in BC are diagnosed with breast cancer and across Canada, more than 26,000.

Mammography is the best overall breast cancer screening test for women who are not showing symptoms. It is able to detect many breast cancers before symptoms occur, even in women with the densest breasts. Recent medical evidence, which has also included Canadian screening data, has shown a 40 per cent decrease in death from breast cancer among women who screen regularly.

It is also recommended that women regularly self-examine their breasts. It is important for women to be aware of the normal look and feel of their breasts, and to bring any changes to their health care provider’s attention, even if their last mammogram was normal.

What are dense breasts?

Breast density is a measurement of the relative amounts of fibrous, glandular and fatty tissue within the breast. It’s estimated around 40 per cent of women over age 40 have dense breasts. During a screening mammogram, dense breasts may mask an underlying cancer, making it more difficult to detect; however, many cancers are detected on mammograms even if dense breast tissue is present.

Breast density is one of several risk factors but is not a major cancer risk factor compared with other commonly recognized risk factors such as age or family history of breast cancer. Breast cancer can occur in women with all levels of density.

Approximately 10 per cent of women are considered to have extremely dense breasts while about 80 per cent have density in the middle two categories. The risk for women with extremely dense breasts is about two times greater when compared with women who have density in the middle two categories.

Jennie Dale, Dense Breasts Canada co-founder, said that over 400,000 women in BC possess dense breasts, without being aware of the potential risks.

So women will know, ‘Hey, I’ve got to look after my health. I’ve got to check my breast and if I feel a lump, even if I’ve had a mammogram two months ago, I’ve got to get this checked out.’”

Dale hopes that breast density screening initiatives will expand to the rest of the country because there are no grounds for “withholding lifesaving information for women”.

This move to sharing breast density information with all women in BC follows the completion of an external review which looked at the reporting of breast density as part of the screening process. The review report made three key recommendations, all of which are being implemented.

BC women will begin receiving their breast density information starting in mid-October 2018. As well, BC Cancer’s Breast Screening Program will develop a comprehensive set of tools to educate and inform patients and providers about the complex issue of breast density for province-wide roll out in January 2019. The program will also continue to assess and monitor the breast density screening system and new evidence around supplemental screening.

BC Cancer Breast Screening provides free screening mammograms for eligible BC women age 40 and up. No referral is required. There are 36 fixed screening mammography clinics across the province, and three mobile screening coaches that visit more than 170 rural and remote communities each year, including over 40 Indigenous communities.


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