News | Breast Density | June 15, 2018

Survey results indicate law has encouraged improved communication between patients and providers about the effect of breast density and supplement screening options

California Women In Favor of Extending State's Breast Density Inform Law

June 15, 2018 — A recent survey of California women found that 95 percent of respondents want the state’s breast density inform law to extend beyond its current Jan. 1, 2019 expiration date. The survey, conducted by global nonprofit breast health organizations Are You Dense Inc. and Are You Dense Advocacy Inc., also found that nearly 75 percent of women know that dense breast tissue makes it more difficult to see cancer on a mammogram, suggesting the 2013 law has been effective in its aim.

Furthermore the vast majority of women with dense breast tissue have had conversations about it, including the discussion of additional screening with their physicians.

California State Senator Holly J. Mitchell, chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, recently introduced bill SB1034 to eliminate the law’s “sunset” clause. The law set to end requires healthcare providers to disclose to patients their breast tissue density as part of mammography reporting results. Sen. Mitchell stated, “From my perspective, the more women know, the more we empower ourselves to be self-health advocates and understand the complexities of our own bodies so that we can have informed conversations with our doctors.”

Are Your Dense Inc. and Are You Dense Advocacy Inc. commissioned Spectrum Associates to determine California women’s awareness of the issue of dense breast tissue and law’s impact. An online survey through Research Now was distributed to 500 California women, between the ages of 40 and 74 years old who had a mammogram within the past two years. The surveys were completed March 22-27, 2018. The racial/ethnic representation within the study sample was reflective of the state’s population.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that it is important that every woman knew her type of breast tissue;
  • Eighty-eight percent agreed that they would prefer to know than not know;
  • Sixty-eight percent of California women learned of their breast tissue type from a conversation with healthcare providers; and
  • Fifty-nine percent of the respondents who had dense breasts indicated that their healthcare provider had talked to them about having additional screening.

“It is critically important that the voices of women who participate in mammography screening are front and center as the merits of the breast density law are debated,” said Nancy M. Cappello, Ph.D., founder and executive director, Are You Dense Inc. and Are You Dense Advocacy Inc. “Furthermore, California women want the law to stay in place, as it is leading to conversations between patient and provider about personalized screening potentially resulting in early detection, an opportunity I never had.”

Cappello launched Are You Dense Inc. in 2008, shortly after learning that her late stage 3C breast cancer, which metastasized to 13 lymph nodes, was missed on mammography due to having dense breast tissue, which was never disclosed to her. According to Cappello, the medical community knew about the limitations of dense breasts to detect cancer on mammogram and its breast cancer risk.

Through her organizations, Cappello helped create the first state density reporting law in her home state of Connecticut in 2009.

Richard Reitherman, Ph.D., M.D., medical director of breast imaging at the Memorial Care Breast Center at Orange Coast Memorial, Fountain Valley, Calif., testified in support of SB1034. He added, "The California Dense Breast Notification law has served to motivate informed decision-making by validating every woman's right to know the scientific facts that may save her life by taking dominion over her personal healthcare decisions."

“The survey confirms that California women want information about their breast tissue density," noted Amy Colton, a nurse from Santa Cruz who recently testified at the Senate Hearing Committee. Colton advocated for the current California density reporting law after invasive cancer was hidden on mammography because of her dense breast tissue. “It validates their belief that patients have a right to know about their own physiology and that dense breasts present a risk and may influence the accuracy of screening. By removing the sunset date, women will continue to receive information regarding their breast density, its inherent risks and screening limitations.”

The final survey report and infographic can be read here.

For more information: www.areyoudense.org

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