New law helps inform mammogram patients

August 3, 2012 5:55:24 PM PDT
Women in New York may soon notice a change when they get a mammogram.

The state now becoming the fourth in the country to pass a new law, that requires providers to tell patients about a common but ambiguous problem.

Mammograms use X-Rays to image the breasts.

Cancer usually shows up as a brighter white area.

But in some women, the breast tissue is naturally more dense, it all looks white, making it harder to detect cancer.

"Those women have breasts that are higher in connective tissue and fibrous structure," said Dr. Rachel Wellner.

Breast surgeon Dr. Rachel Wellner shows how that limits what doctors can see.

One patient was known to have cancer. The tumor could be seen on the ultrasound, but not on the mammogram.

"You can see that mass was not picked up you can't see it through that dense breast tissue," she said.

Now a new law in New York requires that you be informed if you're at risk. It says that women found to have dense breasts on a mammogram must be given that information in plain language. "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 for breast cancer. At that time, ask your doctor if more screening tests might be useful, based on your risk. A report of your results was sent to your physician."

You can then take that information and talk to your doctor to see whether or not you need additional testing that may pick up a cancer that was missed.

Depending on your risk factors, that additional testing may include an MRI or ultrasound of the breast.

Dr. Wellner says it's still important for women to get mammograms, but to understand the limitations. She says the new law is a step in the right direction for women.

"It's important that she be aware of it and therefore might be able to advocate for herself for any additional ancillary studies that may be beneficial," she adds.

The law goes into effect by the end of January. Connecticut already has an existing law like this, and there's pending legislation in Congress that would make it a national law.

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