top of page
  • Debbie Kerr

So much to learn about...breast cancer

Egg carton where there is a lemon in each spot that shows a sign of breast cancer

Did you ever think you knew a lot about something only to discover that what you knew was incorrect or incomplete? Did you ever think that something was working well only to discover that there were flaws that needed fixing?

Unfortunately, I had to learn it the hard way. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about breast cancer, including the belief that I didn't need to know anything about it because I didn't meet the criteria for developing it in the first place.

This post is the first in a series where I will present potential misinformation, the correct information, and resources and actions that you can take to educate yourself and others. You might even want to become an advocate for change.

What I thought I knew

  • I didn’t have to be concerned about breast cancer because I had no family history.

  • I didn’t have to be concerned about breast cancer because only older people (over 50) get breast cancer.

  • I didn’t have to be concerned about breast cancer because no lump meant there wasn’t cancer, and, to be honest, I had never done a breast self-examination. Why? See the first two bullets.

  • I had no need to educate myself about a subject that had nothing to do with me.   

I was so wrong. I had so much to learn.

What I learned from my own experience

  • I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer, yet I was diagnosed with two types of breast cancer. In fact, I didn’t even know there was more than one type of breast cancer.

  • I didn’t have to be 50, which is the age the breast cancer screening programs starts for women in Ontario. I was only 49 with symptoms of breast cancer when I had my first mammogram. I suspect, given my earlier incorrect beliefs, that if I had received a letter that encouraged me to have a mammogram, I probably would have set it aside and waited years before I had a mammogram.

  • I didn’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer. I had blood that spontaneously came from my left nipple. I knew it wasn’t normal, but it never occurred to me that I might have cancer.


I found out I had dense breasts, although it wasn’t until much later that I found out what that meant for me (see below). Even after my personal experience, I still had so much more to learn.

What I learned since having breast cancer

It’s never too late to learn more, even after having my own cancer experience. Now I am learning from various sources that are educating women and triggering change.

Dense Breasts Canada

This organization has taught me so much about dense breasts and breast screening guidelines in Canada. Here are just a few examples of what I’ve learned:

  • Having dense breasts is a double-edged sword. It increases your risk of developing breast cancer and makes it harder to detect.

  • There are four categories of breast density (A, B, C, and D). Categories C and D are the two highest categories for breast density. These two categories are most likely to hide cancer on a mammogram. Supplemental screening is required, like an ultrasound or MRI, to increase the chance that breast cancer will be detected early.

  • Some of you will now have your breast density included in your mammogram results, while some of you will not be told. It depends on the province where you live. More advocacy is required so that all women are notified if they have dense breasts. Without knowing your breast density, you won’t know when to advocate for supplemental screening.  

  • The current Canadian breast screening guidelines recommend that women start having mammograms in their 50s. These guidelines are based on out-dated studies. As a result of strong advocacy, existing guidelines are being re-evaluated. If the standard is changed so that you receive mammograms at age 40, cancer can be detected earlier. This means treatments can be less aggressive and lives can be saved.

  • Currently, mammograms are recommended only for women up to the age of 74; however, since women are living longer and the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, these guidelines need to change. In some provinces, you can request your own mammograms while in other provinces, like Ontario, you need a requisition from your doctor to receive a mammogram after age 74.

In Canada, at the time I wrote this post, the breast screening criteria was correct; however, with ongoing advocacy work, the criteria for breast screening and receiving breast density information in your test results might have changed for you. Pease check the Dense Breasts Canada and My Breast Screening websites for the latest information (see links below).

Know Your Lemons

  • There are at least 12 signs of breast cancer. The “Know Your Lemons” campaign is educating women all over the world about those signs so they can identify cancer much earlier than they would have if they were only looking for a lump.

  • While the current Canadian Task Force recommends that women and even doctors do not do breast examinations, Know Your Lemons has diagrams and an App to help women do breast self-examinations more effectively.  

A friend

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that men can also develop breast cancer. I learned this from a male friend who has both breast and lung cancer. Although breast cancer in men is much rarer than in women, it is possible.


What we can do

With knowledge comes the power to make changes that will benefit not only you but the people around you. Educate yourself. Take action to trigger change. Educate others so that the cycle of education and advocacy can continue. Please visit these sites as a great way to start your cycle of knowledge and advocacy:  

Why not add yourself as someone who can start the education process?



Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page