February 22, 2013 — New York state’s new breast density notification law went into effect in January and is said to be one of the most comprehensive breast density laws in the country. It is designed to improve the early detection of breast cancer by informing women of their breast density and encouraging them to discuss with their physicians the potential benefits of additional screening tests.
The new law requires that every mammography report given to a patient with dense breast tissue will inform the patient in plain, nontechnical language that she has dense breast tissue and that she should discuss the potential benefit of further screenings with her physician.
Senator John Flanagan (2nd Senate District) and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (97th Assembly District) announced that the “Breast Density Information” law, they jointly sponsored to help in the fight against breast cancer, is now in effect in New York state.
"Despite improvements in treatment, breast cancer remains a leading cause of premature death for women,” said Wendie Berg, M.D., Ph.D., professor of radiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. “Breast density is both one of the strongest risk factors for developing breast cancer and one of the greatest factors reducing the effectiveness of mammography. There are now methods to improve breast cancer detection in addition to standard mammography, and women should become aware of these options. As we begin to tailor our screening strategies, it is important that all women screened continue to have mammography, as many cancers are still detected early by mammography even in women with dense tissue, and mammography remains the only screening method known to reduce deaths due to breast cancer. As new technologies become available, we must monitor their impact in terms of cancer detection and, ultimately, reducing the number of cancers diagnosed at later stages because of a lump or other symptoms. Breast density inform legislation will allow women to take an increasingly active role in their breast health, and also will require practitioners and insurers to make a concerted effort to track outcomes as we move forward in implementing improved methods of detection and treatment,"
Berg was supportive of the legislation and provided medical advice as the Breast Density Information bill advanced in the Senate and Assembly.
“This legislation will provide women with access to important medical information they need to make decisions about their own health care and will, quite simply, save lives,” said Sen. Flanagan. “Many women are unaware of their own breast density, that it can be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and that dense breast tissue can make it difficult to detect tumors by mammography alone. Ensuring that all women are supplied with the information they need to make the most educated decisions about their healthcare will lead to earlier detection when the cancer is most treatable and survivable.”
“We are going to save lives and change so much throughout our state and the country because New York’s comprehensive law empowers women with dense breast tissue, and it serves as a template for other states around the nation when they draft their own,” said Assemblywoman Jaffee, who authored the legislation along with Flanagan.
The efforts to bring this law to New York State began when Senator Flanagan was contacted by JoAnn Pushkin, a constituent in his Senate district who is a breast cancer survivor-turned-advocate and founder of DENSE (Density Education National Survivors' Effort) NY.
Pushkin’s cancer went undiagnosed for five years because her annual mammograms did not detect a tumor obscured by dense breast tissue. She is a leader in the effort to raise awareness about this issue and worked closely with Flanagan and Jaffee to bring this new law to New York. Pushkin continues to advocate for the enactment of similar laws in other states and at the federal level. Those efforts have led to consideration of a federal regulatory change.
“New York women are now the first in the nation to be unequivocally informed if they have dense breasts. This law will save lives and I speak on behalf of all New York women when I thank Senator Flanagan and Assemblywoman Jaffee for their untiring commitment to get breast density information to New York women and thank Governor Cuomo for his signature,” Pushkin said.
According to leading medical studies, breast cancer is four to six times more likely in women with dense breast tissue, and mammograms fail to detect approximately 40 to 50 percent of tumors in dense tissue since this condition obscures their presence. Despite those facts, a recent Harris Interactive survey found that 95 percent of women do not know their breast density even though it is a risk factor, and less than one in 10 women learn about breast density from their physician.