New Breast Cancer Screening Law Takes Effect

By Lorne Fultonberg

February 4, 2013 Updated Feb 5, 2013 at 8:49 AM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) A new New York state law will notify women with dense breast tissue that they could be at an increased risk for cancer.

The Breast Density Notification Law took effect Jan. 19, requiring all women whose mammograms show dense breast tissue receive a letter that reads as follows:

“Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is very common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This information about the result of your mammogram is given to you to raise your awareness. Use this information to talk to your doctor about your own risks of breast cancer. At that time, ask your doctor if more screening tests may be useful, based on your risk. A report of your results was sent to your physician.”

About 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue -- characterized by a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue, but little fat. It's not anything abnormal. Breasts generally become fattier with age.

The problem lies in how a dense breast appears on a mammogram.

"Breast tissue is white, breast cancer is white," said Susan Kost
Program Manager of the UHS Breast Center in Vestal. "If a woman has dense breasts it may be more difficult for the radiologist to find breast cancer in that dense breast tissue."

Some in the medical field are worried that it could cause women to overreact and force them to undergo additional and superfluous testing, such as an MRI or ultrasound.

"The screening tests may pick up items that a mammography doesn't pick up that we may do unnecessary biopsies for," Kost said. "So while it may pick up very few additional breast cancers it may cause a lot of anxiety for a lot of women that maybe wouldn't need to be anxious about her mammogram."

Lisa Hanafin is a breast cancer survivor. She sees the letter as a good thing, even if it is temporarily frightening.

"I think I would have gotten very nervous if I got a letter like that in the mail, for five minutes maybe and then you kind of put your big girl boots on and say, we've gotta check this out," she said. "Knowledge is power. If women have dense breasts, go check them out."

The best thing a patient can do is consult his or her doctor, Kost said. That's the best way to assess your personal risk and need for further screening.

New York was the fourth of five states to pass legislation. Connecticut was the first to enact a similar law in 2009. Texas, Virginia and California also passed laws in 2012 to flag dense breast tissue.