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Withheld information on Quebec mammograms could be putting patients at risk, say health advocates


Annie Slight’s breast cancer battle began a decade ago. Since then, she’s endured a bilateral mastectomy, a full hysterectomy, 16 chemotherapy treatments and more.

The Saint-Constant resident wonders if it all could have been avoided if her cancer diagnosis came earlier — if she had been told that she had dense breast tissue. 

“Dense tissue appears white on a mammogram, cancer appears white on a mammogram. So we get a masking effect,” said Slight. “This was my case. My surgeon told me it’s like looking for a polar bear in a snow storm.”

But Slight was not told about this during a routine mammogram.

Dr. Jean Seely of the Canadian Society of Breast Imaging confirms that 43 per cent of women between 40 and 74 have dense breast tissue.

“Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk twice twofold higher than non-dense [breasted] women. Women with the most dense breasts have almost five to six times higher likelihood of getting a breast cancer,” said Seely.

Slight wants women to have the critical health information she was denied. Although Quebec does not list breast tissue density information in mammogram results, other provinces do.

“I think it’s really important that Quebec take a lead in this, they are quite behind compared to many other province,” Seely continued. “They need to communicate that to patients.”

Two years ago, CTV News interviewed Slight about her campaign to make this change, which started off with promise.

“I actually met with Minister McCann twice when she was health minister, and [she] seemed receptive, she assured me this would get done," said Slight.

"Then there was a shift in government. I had Zoom meetings with a couple of MNAs a year and a half ago. There was definitely interest."

But nothing has happened since then. Slight says each passing month means other women are at risk of a late diagnosis like she had. 

“Not having heard anything in two years makes me feel discouraged, it angers me,” she said.

CTV News contacted McCann’s office and the current health minister, Christian Dubé, for comment, but did not receive a response.

The national website is trying to get the news out, alongside advocates like Annie. They say breast tissue density is critical information every patient needs to know. 

“The risk factor of density is actually the same if not more important than having a first-degree relative with breast cancer, so women really need to know about this as a risk factor. You wouldn’t hide the fact that she has a first degree relative with breast cancer,” Seeley added.

Advocates say women who are scheduled for a routine mammogram should be told about their breast tissue density, and if not, patients should always make sure to ask. Top Stories

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