I’m writing a different type of article because October is Canadian Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This article isn’t just about me or you. It’s for all of the women who are currently or yet to be diagnosed with breast cancer. So I need to be blunt.
Dense breasts are common in Canadian women, affecting about 3.4 million women. Having dense breasts makes it harder to detect cancer on a mammogram yet women are not being told.
I went for my regularly scheduled mammogram in April 2014. The notice I received for my mammogram stated that I was to be screened annually because I had 'dense breast tissue’. This was the first time I had heard that term. When I went for my mammogram in Regina, I told the tech that my letter stated that I had 'dense breast tissue’. After the mammogram, she looked at the images and said yes, “dense breasts.” I had no idea what this meant for me, but I was to find out soon.
At the age of 46, I was diagnosed with stage two/grade three multifocal, invasive lobular and ductal breast cancer. I had found the lump myself after a year of constant infected cysts in my breast. I had been told I had very dense breasts, which is part of the reason the cancer was not visible on a mammogram. I had it confirmed by biopsy and had a right mastectomy followed by four rounds of chemotherapy. Six months later, I chose to have my left breast removed and began reconstruction.
For Naomi Pickersgill, living with metastatic breast cancer and being confronted with her own mortality has been a “roller coaster of emotions.”
My life changed forever once I received the phone call no one wants to get early one morning in March 2015. My surgeon was on the other line with the results from my recent biopsy. The lump that was supposed to be only a pesky cyst was indeed cancerous. The surgeon further explained my diagnosis. But the only thing I heard was that I had cancer. My world felt like it was spinning out of control.
Roughly 40% of Canadian women, meaning about 3 million women, have what is known as “dense breasts.” Dense breasts are normal and common, but they also pose cancer risks and screening challenges. Breast density can have a significant impact on cancer detection and the treatment and prognosis of a diagnosed cancer. Many women in Canada are unaware of their breast density, impacting their screening and their ability to be their own breast health advocate. Why is knowing and understanding your breast density so important?