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Nova Scotia first province to include breast density results in all mammograms

Nova Scotia first province to include breast density results in all mammograms
WATCH: Nova Scotia has become the first province in Canada to automatically assess breast density. As Elizabeth McSheffrey tells us, high breast density may increase the risk that cancer won’t be detected on a mammogram – making it an important risk factor to identify early.

Nova Scotia has become the first province to provide breast density results to all women who undergo a mammogram, using a new technology pioneered in-house.

The standardized changes are effective immediately, with the new Densitas breast density assessment software already installed in screening centres across Nova Scotia.

Breast density refers to the tissue composition of the breast and is an important factor in evaluating a patient’s risk for cancer.

“It makes the work of clinicians throughout the province that much easier,” said Health Minister Randy Delorey, announcing the new procedures at the IWK Health Centre on Tuesday.

“To put this in context, my understanding is that breast density could always be obtained if a woman inquired, but it put the onus on the client – the patient – to ask for this information.”

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READ MORE: Many women aren’t told they have dense breasts. Here’s why it matters

Breast density is evaluated in four categories: a) fatty (less than 25 per cent dense tissue); b) scattered areas of density (25 to 50 per cent dense tissue); c) heterogenously dense (50 to 75 per cent dense tissue); and d) extremely dense (more than 75 per cent dense tissue).

Dense breast tissue comes up white in a mammogram – the same colour as the cancer the breast screening aims to detect. It can make cancer more difficult for a radiologist to find and the density itself increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

According to Dense Breasts Canada, however, dense breasts are common, found in 43 per cent of women over the age of 40.

Dalhousie University radiologist Dr. Siân Iles said the new technology will help every woman become “breast aware,” while making life easier for Nova Scotia radiologists.

“The role of the radiologist during screening is to look for cancer and we want to focus on that task,” she told reporters. “So this has, as I said, taken that task away from the radiologist. It’s also standardized it in a way so that a woman won’t get two different results if she goes to two different places.”

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Densitas is a Halifax-based company whose program provides patient-specific results that are automatically incorporated into mammography screening reports. It was developed and produced, in part, by researchers and radiologists at Dalhousie University, and rolled out in Nova Scotia with help from the IWK Health Centre’s Breast Screening Program.

According to the province, one in eight Nova Scotian woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and in 2018, 65,000 screening mammograms were conducted across the province.

The Nova Scotia health department is encouraging any women who have had a screening done in the last two years to contact their primary health care provide and ask for their breast density information.