Kathy Kaufield has an important message she wants every woman to hear: know your breast density.
What are dense breasts? They’re breasts that have more fibrous connective tissue as opposed to fatty tissue. About 40 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 70 have dense breasts. But mammograms are effective at finding cancerous tissue in dense breasts only 50 percent of the time.
These are important statistics to know, and ones that Kaufield didn’t when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Years prior to her diagnosis, the New Brunswick, CA, survivor found a lump “that turned out to be nothing,” Kaufield told Anna Maria Tremonti from The Current at CBC Radio. After that, she had regular check-ups so her doctor could monitor her and be on the lookout for anything else suspicious.
Yet, she was not told she had dense breasts. And therefore, did not know that her risk of breast cancer had increased.
The problem is that dense tissue will show up white on a mammogram — and so will cancerous tissue. This makes it easier to miss a concerning issue because the cancer is camouflaged.
“If you’re looking for a tumor, it’s like finding a snowball in a snowstorm,” Kaufield told CBC Radio.
And, though doctors don’t know why, having dense breasts also makes a woman 6 times more likely to develop cancer than a woman with fatty breasts, according to Breastcancer.org.
In June of 2015, Kaufield had a mammogram, and was given the all-clear. Several months later, she was showering at a hotel and didn’t have her shower puff, or loofah, from home, so she washed her body with her hands. It was then that she felt a golf-ball-sized lump.
Six months after her clear mammogram result, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After going through breast cancer surgery, 16 rounds of chemo, 6 weeks of radiation, and hormone therapy, Kaufield knows firsthand how cancer can ravage you, and is so thankful she caught it when she did
It seems like a no-brainer to tell women their breast density, yet it’s not always required.
In Canada, doctors may not even get a breast density report, and even if they do, they may not even tell their patient. It depends on which province or territory they live in.
In the United States, only 35 out of 50 states require doctors to tell their patients about breast density (as of September 2018). However, that could mean telling them about breast density in general, not the woman’s own breast density.
Kaufield is working alongside Dense Breasts Canada to urge the Canadian government to require doctors in all provinces to tell their patients about their breast density.
Breast density is not something you can tell by feel alone; a radiologist will need to look at your results on a mammogram.
Yet a 2016 study showed that there were significant discrepancies on what radiologists actually qualified as dense breasts. Not only were radiologists all over the board when it came to deciding what denoted a high breast density, the reports were written at a reading level that is often difficult for patients to understand.
In addition to helping spread the word with Dense Breasts Canada, Kaufield is spreading the word through her own campaign #TellMe (in English) or #DisMoi (in French), and has her own website Tell Me My Breast Density.
Although Kaufield is now a freelance writer and communications consultant, she’s a former political reporter — and so has used those connections to get the ball rolling in New Brunswick and elsewhere in Canada.
She is on a mission, and she won’t be stopping anytime soon.
BY C. DIXON