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California Mandates Dense-Breast Notification

September 25, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging, Practice Management
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California has become the fifth state to require that mammography patients be informed if they have dense breasts. Governor Jerry Brown on Saturday signed a bill that included changes he had suggested after vetoing a similar bill last year.

The new law specifies that mammography providers include the notification in the written report that is sent to the patient. Patients covered are those who, the law says, have “heterogeneously dense breasts or extremely dense breasts, based on the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System established by the American College of Radiology.”

The required notification reads:

“Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

“This information about the results of your mammogram is given to you to raise your awareness and to inform your conversations with your doctor. Together, you can decide which screening options are right for you. A report of your results was sent to your physician.”

The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Joe Simitian, a Democrat from Palo Alto, said in a statement:

This is about a patient’s right to know. Patients with dense breast tissue need to know that it can hide a cancer and that additional screening options are available. Early detection is the key.

Smitian sponsored a similar bill last year at the suggestion of registered nurse Amy Colton, a breast cancer survivor from Santa Cruz. Brown vetoed it because, he said, he had problems with the wording of the message.

The earlier bill required a notification that dense breast tissue “could hide small abnormalities” and that those with dense breasts “might benefit from supplementary screening tests.” The California Radiological Society and the California Medical Association, among other medical groups, objected, saying that the benefits of additional screening remain unproven and that it could actually harm women because of anxiety and unnecessary biopsies resulting from false positives.

The medical groups dropped their opposition after the notification language was changed in this year’s bill.

“I’m tremendously thankful for the governor’s support of this measure and for his willingness to listen to and work with us on this issue over the past year,” Simitian said.

Other states with dense breast–notification laws are Connecticut, Texas, New York, and Virginia. About 15 other states are considering similar legislation. A bill that would require the notification nationwide was introduced in the U.S. House last year, but it was referred to a committee and pretty left there to die.

Related seminar: New Horizons in Breast Imaging

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