The guidelines on breast cancer screening need to be changed.
Dr. Paula Gordon with Dense Breasts Canada recently chatted with us about breast density and how it complicates getting tested, but she adds there is another part to making sure the cancer is caught early.
“17 percent of breast cancers occur to women aged 40 to 49. Although breast cancer is less common in younger women, it grows faster because they are usually pre-menopausal and the cancer is stimulated by ovarian hormones.” She says 27 percent of the years of life lost to breast cancer occur in women diagnosed in their 40s.
It is because of this Dr. Gordon says all average-risk women in Canada should be able to refer, without a requisition from a doctor, for a mammography starting at age 40. These should be given annually at least until after the woman is menopausal. In addition, those with dense breasts should have supplemental screening with an ultrasound.
Dr. Gordon has seen first-hand how early screening has saved lives. There was a time when a woman came in for a mammogram, and found an early cancer. “She has a lumpectomy and radiation, doesn’t need chemo, and has optimal surveillance.” In another instance, a woman with dense breast had an ultrasound along with their mammogram. She also has a lumpectomy and radiation without the need for chemo.
CCSN also believes that women should have the option of screening for breast cancer at age 40, and for ultrasounds to be included as part of the screening process. For more resources, visit the Dense Breast Canada or My Breast Screening websites.