New Law Would Require Physicians to Notify Women With Dense Breasts

October and the pink deluge that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month fast approaches, and with that will come constant reminders that women should get regular mammograms. Early detection is key! Prevention, prevention, prevention!

Even if women do everything correctly, up to a quarter of women who should be having regular mammograms have breast tissue dense enough to mask the appearance of tumors in a mammogram, and their doctors haven't necessarily been informing women of this fact. As a result, women with dense breast tissue may not discover tumors until the cancer has advanced. A California law aims to remedy this by requiring doctors to notify women who have dense breast tissue that they may need additional screening to accurately detect cancer.

One California woman suffered tragically as a result of a lack of communication between her and her doctor. The San Francisco Chronicle reports,

[Amy Colton] dutifully had annual mammograms starting at age 40. Every year, the tests showed no signs of cancer, but seven years after her first mammogram, she discovered she had later-stage breast cancer. Her doctors knew her tissue type made mammography less able to detect cancer, but they never told her, she said.

Her state senator introduced legislation to require that doctors notify women when mammograms won't suffice, and it's now sitting on Governor Jerry Brown's desk, waiting to be signed. If the California law goes into effect, the Golden State will become the third in the union to require such action by doctors, following Connecticut and Texas. In Connecticut, the law goes even further, requiring insurance companies to cover follow up ultrasound procedures for women with denser breasts.

Hooray, right? Not so fast. Some doctors' groups are claiming that the proposed California law will unnecessarily scare women and prompt them to seek unnecessary medical treatment and that the ultrasound detection method does nothing for women but increase anxiety and medical costs.

Some practitioners argue that alternative screenings for women in that category saves lives, but some major physician organizations - the California Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists - oppose the bill, arguing there's not enough scientific evidence proving alternative screening measures find enough cancer to justify the expense.

Groups opposed to the law in California are urging lawmakers to wait until the Connecticut law is a few years old and can be assessed for effectiveness.

California's governor has until October 9 to sign the bill into law.

Breast Cancer: Bill Seeks To Inform Women of Tissue [San Francisco Chronicle]

Image via Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock