B.C. is becoming the first province in Canada to provide information about breast density to women and their doctors after their mammogram screening tests.
Health officials will begin providing women with the information beginning mid-October.
The information had previously been available, but only by request through the province’s Breast Screening Program.
“Today, we know that approximately one-in-eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime,” said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix.
“Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. There are around 33,500 women receiving a breast cancer diagnosis each year.
“This decision is based on a commitment to improve women’s health and cancer programs. It’s also based on the evidence.”
B.C. has been collecting breast density information for three decades, but the new information-sharing is a significant change, according to Breast Density Canada.
Organization co-founder Jennie Dale said about 400,000 women in B.C. have dense breasts, but many aren’t aware of it.
What’s more, she said, high breast density is a more significant cancer risk factor than family history.
She added that women with high breast density also may not receive accurate mammograms, potentially masking the early stages of cancer.
“Information is power,” she said.
“[Women] can now speak to their doctors about their risk. They can discuss any additional risk factors they have and then discuss next steps — what do we do about this to mitigate the risk?”
Dale added that the knowledge can help women be vigilant about conducting self-exams to look for warning signs.
“Self-exams are not recommended by our Canadian task force. Physicians no longer do physical exams,” she said.
“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.’”
The new information policy comes on the recommendation of an external review by Dr. Andy Coldman, a scientist with the University of British Columbia’s cancer control research department and the BC Cancer Research Centre.
The review made two additional recommendations: assessing the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data system which assesses density and monitoring results from clinical trials of more screening of women with negative screening mammography.
BC Cancer is adopting all three recommendations. It is also forming a working group to create education and support tools for women about breast density, which will be rolled out in January 2019.
Dale said she’s hopeful other provinces will take notice.
“We would just love to see everyone follow B.C.’s lead,” she said.
“The other provinces, they can do it. There’s no logical reason for a government to withhold lifesaving information for women.”