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Bill would require notification of Dense Breast Tissue mammogram results

March 28, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A state senator is re-introducing a bill to help women with dense breast tissue detect possible breast cancer earlier. The bill is inspired by a nurse whose breast cancer went undetected despite years of regular mammograms.

After years of normal annual mammograms, Amy Colton was surprised to hear she had advanced stage breast cancer. The Santa Cruz nurse says she found out later her test results always noted she had dense breast tissue (DBT), which can sometimes obscure abnormalities. Dense tissue and cancer both show up white in tests.

"I was really outraged that this information about my own physiology, this important critical information, was never shared with me," said Amy Colton.

Colton is teaming up with state Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) to re-introduce a bill that forces doctors to warn women who have dense breast tissue to get further testing at the time they get their mammogram results. They say the law is needed because 40 percent of women who get a mammogram have DBT.

"Why on Earth wouldn't you provide notice? The information is already assessed by the radiologist, already provided to the referring physician," said Simitian. "The only person who doesn't get the information is the patient herself. And that's just wrong."

But the California Medical Association says not all women with dense breast tissue need further testing, and that the warning should be at the doctor's discretion.

"There are certain women, certain women where when they have extremely dense breasts and meet the risk criteria, they ought to have some further testing," said Dr. Ruth Haskins, California Medical Association.

Governor Jerry Brown seems open to reconsidering the proposal. He vetoed a similar bill last year after consulting with doctors from UCLA and UC San Francisco.

"They both felt that that warning was too much, in terms of physician-patient relationship. I think there's a way to get there," said Brown.

Senator Simitian notes that Connecticut has a similar law in place and studies there show that early detection of breast cancer increased 100 percent in women with DBT.


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