Mr. Speaker, Bill C-314 seeks to improve breast cancer screening measures for women with dense breast tissue.
One woman in nine is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime, and one in 29 will die of it. The current mortality rate is 21%. Risk factors can be both genetic and environmental, and breast tissue density is one of those factors, hence this bill.
Women with high breast tissue density face two challenges: the probability of developing breast cancer is higher and screening is more difficult because the X-rays are harder to read. It is therefore important to improve care for women with dense breast tissue because of the increased risks to their health.
This bill seeks to do that and:
...requires 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.
Still today in Canada, not all women are fully informed about breast cancer. As a former nurse, I know that not all women—far from it—have access to a family doctor and therefore to the chance to discuss the risks with a professional. Sometimes people in remote areas do not have the same access to health care as others. Sometimes women end up not having access to full and accurate information about breast cancer, its risks and the importance of screening. And the doctor ends up not having access to the patient's complete medical file because she has several different files. These women see a doctor when they go to emergency. In the long term, there is no continuity of care because doctor visits are always one-offs.
Women may be seen by their family doctor, and now by specialized nurse practitioners who may also work in this area. Nurse practitioners will ask questions, analyze risk factors, conduct assessments, teach women to perform breast self exams and help them do so. These concrete measures can help these women. If a woman does not have access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, she will not know that she may have access to screening programs and, consequently, will not take advantage of them.
I believe that it is important to talk about this. Breast cancer will result in the death of 14 women a day in Canada in 2012. It is a very important issue. Screening and awareness of the risk factors are also major issues. Early diagnosis and treatment greatly increase women's chances of survival.
Women with dense breast tissue should be made aware of it and should undergo more tests before being given a diagnosis because cancer is more difficult to detect in x-rays of dense breast tissue. The more tests, the great the difficulty. Consequently it is important to promote detection screening to these women. It is also important to promote and to circulate this information among health professionals so that they can screen women.
We often see people die from cancer because of this. We must not take it lightly.
The Canadian Cancer Society's website talks about the determinants of survival. It points out the factors related to the cancer control infrastructure, such as the availability and quality of early detection, diagnosis and treatment.
Depending on where a woman lives and the quality of infrastructure available, and depending on the timeliness of detection, she will have a greater or lesser chance of dying of cancer.
This is not an equitable situation. In my opinion, access to health infrastructure should not be one of the determinants of breast cancer survival.
The fact that such is the case in Canada in 2012 does not make any sense. And this should also not be the case for any other illness. For example, to date, Nunavut does not have a formal screening program.
We therefore really need to do more than encourage the government to get the message out and to facilitate screening. Clearly, we need more concrete action. We need better access to health care and infrastructure; we need more family doctors, more nurses and more nurse practitioners; and we need improved prevention measures. We must decrease wait times—which have reached record highs—for tests and treatments. We must improve access to medical specialists who are better able to diagnose and treat these patients. We must work with the provinces to come up with a national strategy to combat breast cancer that is fair to all women, regardless of their geographic area or their income.
We have no choice. We must really discuss this with the provinces. We need real leadership on this issue. For example, Canada should abide by the 2003 and 2004 health accords, which were meant to improve the accessibility, the quality and the viability of the public health care system.
In order to prevent all these bills on health from being just words written completely in vain that look good on paper but do not contain any concrete measures, we should ensure that they include measures such as federal funding to create systematic breast cancer screening programs for all women across the country. These programs should be made available free of charge, on a voluntary basis, to women aged 40 and over. Right now, the systematic program that exists in Quebec is free for women over the age of 50.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk to you about my cousin Linda, who passed away from breast cancer when I was in Vancouver in June. Her daughter had just had her first baby when Linda learned that she had breast cancer. She was only 42 years old when she died. I believe that this is a concrete example of why systematic screening programs should be made available free of charge to women as early as age 40, not age 50. This is a good example, and I thought it was important to talk about what happened to my cousin. I was close to her, and 42 is very young. I thought it was important for members to be aware of this.
Such bills should also include standards requiring that existing provincial programs begin screening women at age 40. Early detection is essential and should be a priority. We know that. I do not know if people understand this, but the earlier in a person's life breast cancer—or any type of cancer—shows up, the more likely it is to be aggressive, because an immune reaction takes place. The stronger the immune system's reaction, the more aggressive the cancer can be. That is why very early detection is important, as I just explained.
Similarly, any health-related bills should include standards for existing screening programs to optimize and standardize the use of digital mammography equipment such as magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound units. Women should have access to these devices, which, once again, improve detection rates, particularly for women with risk factors such as high breast density.
Health-related bills like this one must go farther: instead of offering vague suggestions, they have to propose practical measures. This must be done together with the provinces and territories, of course, because health is under provincial jurisdiction. It is important to truly work with the provinces to develop an action plan. If we do that, we can hope to save lives. If health-related bills are too vague, they are not useful; they are nothing but nice ideas on paper that do not really change anything for the better.