Breast cancer diagnoses can take months, a Quebec foundation is trying to change that

Exasperated by delays, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation is launching a pilot project to cut waiting times for people expecting a diagnosis.

“In Quebec, a woman who suspects she has breast cancer, or has had an abnormal imaging test, can sometimes wait up to 17 weeks before having her diagnosis,” said the foundation’s president, Karine-Iseult Ippersiel.

“It's huge. It's way too much.”

On Friday, the foundation launched a new phone line intended for people in the pre-diagnosis process – that it to say, those who are suspected of having breast cancer, but are experiencing delays in confirmation. 

The project aims to locate systemic bottlenecks, support those awaiting diagnosis, and ultimately reduce wait times.

The calls will be answered by people who have had breast cancer themselves.

Their role will first consist of offering support to callers and helping them navigate the health network. Then, those taking the calls will document any obstacles the callers are facing in obtaining a diagnosis. 

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube, who spoke at the project launch, says the line will help the province determine the causes of the delays.

“I can tell you we're going to make it happen,” he said on Friday.

“I want to understand where the bottlenecks are in these processes,” he continued. “It doesn't make sense that it takes so much time. It doesn't make any sense,” he said.

Ippersiel said Friday that Quebecers waiting for diagnoses face longer wait times than most other Canadians.

“Our province is ranked 10th among Canadian provinces in terms of waiting time for a diagnosis,” she said.

The foundation's goal is to reduce waiting times from 17 to seven weeks.

Those awaiting a diagnosis can call 1-855-561-ROSE (7673) to speak with a survivor. The service is free. 

Catherine Wilhelmy, a breast cancer survivor, will be one of the people answering the phone.

She hopes she can provide some comfort to those awaiting diagnosis. She says the time she spent waiting for confirmation of her own condition was one of the most difficult periods of her life.

“When the diagnosis comes with a treatment plan, it's reassuring,” she said. “In the pre-diagnosis period, we have no control. We are very vulnerable.” 

 -- This report was first published by The Canadian Press in French on Oct. 1, 2021. 

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