Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today to debate Bill C-314, An Act respecting the awareness of screening among women with dense breast tissue. As a young woman, I am aware that I am at risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, we all are, because breast cancer can affect anyone, both men and women, young and old.
According to the statistics, 23,400 Canadian women and 190 Canadian men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011. Age is an important factor. It is a fact that older women are at greater risk. In 2011, an estimated 80% of cases were diagnosed in women over the age of 50. Young women are also at risk. It is estimated that 3,500 new cases, or 14%, were reported in women between the ages of 30 and 49 years, and 965 cases, or 4% of cases diagnosed, were women 40 and under.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast. The breast tissue covers an area larger than just the breast. It extends up to the collarbone and from the armpit across to the breastbone in the centre of the chest. Each breast is made of mammary glands, milk ducts and fatty tissue. The breasts also contain lymph vessels and lymph nodes, which are part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system helps fight infections. Lymph vessels move lymph fluid to the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes trap bacteria, cancer cells and other harmful substances. There are groups of lymph nodes near the breast under the arm, near the collarbone and in the chest behind the breastbone. Cancer cells may start within the ducts or in the lobules. Ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer.
As a woman, I know the importance of mammography, which is a low-dose x-ray of the breast. Mammography pictures, or mammograms, show detailed images and views of the breast from different angles. The breast is placed between two plastic plates. The plates are then pressed together to flatten the breast. Compressing the breast tissue helps make the images clearer. Better quality mammography and increased participation in organized breast screening programs have led to more breast cancers being detected earlier, which means successful treatment is more likely. Unfortunately, this test does not always detect cancer, especially among women with dense breast tissue. In such cases, doctors may opt for scintimammography or an MRI. A biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of cancer.
Breast density is a radiological concept, but it has a major impact on the accuracy of mammogram interpretation. Dense breast tissue is a concern for all radiologists, as well as epidemiologists and gynecologists. A dense breast appears white on a mammogram because it contains little fat.
Breast tissue is quite variable. Changes in breast tissue are hormone driven and occur throughout an individual's lifetime. For example, young women typically have denser breasts than older women because breast tissue becomes less dense as women age. However, even though older women's breasts tend to contain more fat, women of any age can have dense breast tissue.
Bill C-314 requires the Government of Canada to encourage the use of existing initiatives 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.
Although the purpose of this bill is to improve breast cancer screening for women with dense breast tissue, we believe that it should go further still. Why not institute accountability measures to shorten waiting lists and ensure that women have access to timely screening?
Any bill designed to improve breast cancer screening should include federal funding for national breast cancer screening programs for all women, which should be systematic, free and available without a doctor's referral, beginning at age 40.
Health care workers and women who are concerned about breast cancer need more than just encouragement in order to raise awareness and promote best practices.
The government should put in place standards. Under these standards, all provincial programs would start screening women for breast cancer from age 40. The standards should include the regular and optimal use of digital mammography machines such as MRIs and ultrasounds for screening purposes. Lastly, screening standards should focus on the particular challenges of screening for breast cancer among women with dense or heterogeneous breast tissue.
The Quebec breast cancer screening program is a good example of a screening program with very good results. Screening using a mammogram targets women aged 50 to 69 and is carried out, systematically, every two years. According to data from Quebec's health and social services department, the breast cancer mortality rate for women who are systematically screened dropped by at least 25% between 1996 and 2006.
It is high time that the federal government showed leadership by adopting a funding plan and implementing a real national strategy to improve breast cancer screening in Canada. That also means honouring the commitments made as part of the 2003 and 2004 health accords, including the commitment to reduce waiting times and increase the number of doctors and nurses to ensure that women at risk have access to primary care or specialists as quickly as possible.
Experts and organizations fighting breast cancer are asking for more and agree that this project does not go far enough.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Network does not believe that this bill will improve screening procedures for those women most at risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer survivors direct the network. It is a national link between all the groups and individuals concerned about breast cancer, and its members, partners and founders include the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Breast Cancer Society of Canada.
The Canadian Cancer Society supports a bill that would improve cancer screening measures, particularly for patients with dense breast tissue. However, the society believes that this bill will not produce concrete results for patients living with breast cancer and their families.
Lastly, Quebec's association of hematologists and oncologists says that while it is important to increase breast cancer screening, we cannot forget about other kinds of cancers. Improvements need to be made in the prevention of and screening for all cancers. We must not concentrate all our efforts on one single category of women or type of cancer.
I wonder when this government will start to take this issue really seriously? The Conservative government introduced a bill that will in no way improve the lives of Canadian women. The government must start thinking more seriously about this issue in order to prevent even more women from developing this destructive disease.