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Nova Scotia Liberal says province not doing enough to screen for breast cancer

HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia Liberal member who introduced a bill to improve breast cancer detection says the province isn’t doing enough to offer cancer screening to women who need it.

Rafah DiConstanzo, Liberal member for Clayton Park West, told a legislature committee on Tuesday that the province’s breast screening program should include MRI scans for women with dense breasts.

Women who have dense breasts are at greater risk for breast cancer than are other women, according to Dense Breasts Canada. The group adds that dense breasts make it more difficult for breast cancer to be detected by mammograms.

She introduced her bill — the Find It Early Act — on March 6, which would have the government pay for more detailed cancer screenings of women with dense breasts. DiConstanzo, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2023, said her cancer could have been caught earlier if MRI screening was available to her.

“There are so many worse situations, I was the lucky one,” she told the committee.

DiConstanzo said she had gone for routine mammograms since her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. But when DiConstanzo turned 60, a biopsy failed to register abnormalities, and she did not get a breast cancer diagnosis until nine months later after she found a second lump.

Since then, DiConstanzo has had a mastectomy and four rounds of chemotherapy.

“Life has changed for me night and day since that day,” DiConstanzo told the standing committee. “Chemo has done so much damage to me, my life, my work and my family. I’m still not back six months after my chemo.”

Nova Scotia — unlike Ontario and British Columbia — does not provide MRI testing as part of its routine breast cancer screening program. Instead, the province’s current model offers mammograms to anyone 40 and up.

Dr. Sian Iles, radiologist and medical adviser to the Nova Scotia breast screening program, told the committee Tuesday that the province’s current model is the only screening system to date that has shown to decrease breast cancer mortality. Breast cancer screening via MRI, she said, is “very expensive and quite resource-intensive” — and not proven to reduce breast cancer deaths.

Approximately 23 per cent of women in Nova Scotia have dense breasts, with two per cent of women falling under the category D umbrella, which is the densest category, Iles said.

The province’s current approach, Iles said, focuses on offering additional screening and monitoring to those considered the highest risk, or for people with genetic risks that increase their chances of getting cancer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024.

Cassidy McMackon, The Canadian Press