Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here this afternoon to speak to Bill C-314. This bill calls on the Government of Canada to encourage the use of existing initiatives in order to increase awareness among women about the implications of heterogeneous or dense breast tissue for breast cancer screening, and to assist women and health care providers in making well-informed decisions regarding screening.
On behalf of our health critic, the hon. member for Vancouver Centre, I would like to say that the Liberal Party supports this bill. All efforts to raise awareness, to provide more information and to encourage communication must be supported.
As a family doctor, it became very clear to me and also in our work at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto that the world changed when books like Our Bodies Ourselves came onto the market, and women were empowered to know more about the choices in order to ask better questions of their doctors and demand better care.
The bill, which will respect the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue, is just that kind of initiative. So we as Liberals support any effort to increase awareness, to fund research, and to provide information to Canadians about cancer prevention and early detection. We know that we should be doing more of this in many areas of health, including health promotion, wait times and pharmaceutical strategies.
The proposed legislation calls on the federal government to work with the provincial and territorial governments to increase awareness among women about the risk factor involved in having dense breast tissue. It asks that we use existing programs. It asks that we identify the gaps in information for women and that we improve that information that is going to Canadian women. It asks that we address the challenges in detecting breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue.
This year, 23,400 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 5,100 will die. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour has said, all of us are touched by breast cancer in some way. My mother died of breast cancer as well. She had two different breast cancers that took her life even in what was to be a lesser kind of breast cancer: breast cancer after menopause. My sister has had breast cancer diagnosed before menopause.
As a physician, I recognize the importance of early detection and ensuring that patients have the best possible information and treatment. Any oncologist would say very clearly he or she would rather find these cancers early when indeed they can be treated. The problem is the dense breast tissue makes it difficult to identify breast cancer. There are too many stories of what was presumed to be a negative mammogram that was later on shown to have a cancer hiding in the breast tissue that was not visible to the radiologist at the time.
We are blessed now in Canada that almost 80% of mammography is done with the new digital approach which makes it much easier to detect the problems in dense breast tissue, but still we need to do more. We need to require more tests and appropriate screening. It means that we need to ensure that people reading the mammography are experienced radiologists. Now with technology, help is possible for very experienced people with tremendous expertise in mammography can read them at a distance. The new machine in Moose Factory allows the people a long way away to be the actual expert reading the exams.
We always have to balance appropriate testing without alarming the general population or Canadians with unnecessary tests that only put more pressure on the system. We believe that the federal government does have a role to play in facilitating best practices and funding research related to cancer prevention and early detection as part of the Canadian partnership against cancer.
It is interesting that the California state legislature recently passed bill SB 173 that would require mammogram providers to inform women if they have dense breast tissue and that they would benefit from more screening. But is also interesting that the California governor, Jerry Brown, vetoed the bill noting that while it was important, the bill should have used more careful language so as not to create unnecessary anxiety among women and strain the health system. This message was echoed by the California Medical Association because of its risk of leading to unnecessary MRIs and ultrasounds.
We are pleased to see that Bill C-314 calls for research, information sharing, and increased awareness for women about the problems related to screening for those with dense breast tissue, which makes it hard to identify these tumours.
For any Canadian who wants to look at the movement in the United States, it is at rudense.com. There is very interesting information. It asserts that breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography screening to detect cancer. There is a very interesting logo, “Are you dense? exposing the best-kept secret”. Unfortunately the best-kept secret can take people's lives.
There are things that are coming forward: ways that we could detect the breast density on a scale of 1 to 4; letting women know which category they are in; what women should expect for themselves and their families in terms of the amount of screening; and the serious conversation women need to have with their doctors.
We in the Liberal Party are very keen on the idea of national clinical practice guidelines that every Canadian can come to know and understand. Therefore, regardless of their postal code, women could be asking for the best possible care based on the evidence-based clinical practice guidelines.
It means that family doctors are brought up to speed and can actually have meaningful conversations with their patients, not only about the clinical practice guideline but whether their individual situation places them in that average clinical guideline, or whether their situation is particularly special, such that a different plan of action or care plan should be there for them.
I am very pleased and thank the member for bringing the bill forward. We look forward to further debate.
As our party's health critic, I look forward to studying the bill with the hon. member at the health committee.