A breast cancer survivor and advocate who is originally from Prince Edward Island had a sweet victory Friday. She saw the two leading parties adopt her cause as platform planks for the Sept. 24 New Brunswick election.
“I'm dancing a happy dance,” said Kathy Kaufield, who is originally from Stratford, P.E.I., after both the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives pledged Friday to ensure women are given information on their breast density following mammograms.
If implemented, New Brunswick would become the first province to routinely provide women that kind of density information.
Kaufield, who said the news makes her proud to live in New Brunswick, said women need to know that having dense breasts is a greater risk for breast cancer than family history.
Kaufield, who completed cancer treatments two years ago, said few women are even aware it is an issue, so that's why she launched her #TellMe campaign to have doctors give women that information.
“I had a mammogram and it came out clear, and then five months later I found a tumour the size of a golf ball. If I had known I had dense breasts I would have been checking my breasts more regularly and perhaps I would have found it earlier,” said Kaufield, who is a former reporter with The Guardian in Charlottetown and the Eastern Graphic in Montague.
“Mammograms often miss the tumours in dense breasts because dense breasts appear white on a mammogram and so do the tumours, so it's like trying to find a snowball in a snow storm.”
“I had a mammogram and it came out clear, and then five months later I found a tumour the size of a golf ball. If I had known I had dense breasts I would have been checking my breasts more regularly and perhaps I would have found it earlier.”
Breast density is assessed by the radiologist viewing a mammogram. An estimated 81,000 women in New Brunswick have dense breasts, with an estimated 18,000 women in the highest category of density.
Kaufield said breast density isn't consistent in families and can change during your lifetime.
Progressive Conservative candidate Dorothy Shephard, who is seeking re-election in the riding of Saint John-Lancaster, was diagnosed with breast cancer last December. She had surgery earlier this year and just completed the last of her treatments this week.
On Friday, Shephard said she was just the second person in her family to have breast cancer and had been unaware of the density issue.
“All of this information is so important for us to help women understand that they can be their own advocates. They can be very proactive in understanding what their health risks are,” she said.
Tory Leader Blaine Higgs pledged to make it mandatory for health professionals to inform women if they have an added risk as a result of breast density.
“This is not like it has to be a whole new procedure. It's like making the patients aware that they have an additional risk factor, and then deciding the next step,” he said, standing in front of the provincial legislature.
Liberal Premier Brian Gallant made a similar announcement while campaigning in Moncton Friday.
“Information on breast density will be added to medical reports, as well as to the letters mailed to women accompanying their mammogram results. Enclosed information will also explain the implications of breast density,” he said.
Asked about the coincidence of both leaders making the same commitment on the same day, Higgs quipped: “Well, he and I don't talk much.”
Also Friday, Gallant again pledged to increase the number of health professionals in the province, including 90 net new doctors.
The Tories also announced plans for a provincial advisory council on women's health and a $5-million fund for research projects on women's health issues.
-By Kevin Bissett