New York State Breast Density Law Creates Cancer Screening Awareness

If you’ve received a mammogram anytime within the last 3 years, you may have questions about a new section in the results about breast density. Since 2013, mammogram results from New York state mammography providers may include the following wording:

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.

This new notice is a result of legislation passed in 2012 and signed by NY State Governor Cuomo. For those that have dense breasts, the bill requires mammogram providers include this paragraph informing patients they have dense breasts.

What Are Dense Breasts?

Breasts are made up of fatty tissue and fibrous and glandular tissue. Breasts are considered more dense if they have more fibrous and glandular tissue. Dense breasts are common—about 40% of women have dense or extremely dense breasts.

Why Am I Being Informed I Have Dense Breasts?

As the new statement mentions, you are being told in order to raise your awareness. Before this law, most women were never told they had dense breasts, even though it is something a mammogram easily detects. In addition, the new legislation seeks to educate women about the risk factors of having dense breasts. High breast density substantially increases risk of breast cancer—four to six times the risk, according to an article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Additionally, having dense breasts means mammogram results are harder to read and may not be as effective for breast cancer screening. The New York breast density law hopes to make women aware of all of these things, so that they can make informed screening and prevention decisions.

What Should I Do If I Have Dense Breasts?

Talk to your primary care doctor or referring physician about your mammogram results. Ask her if additional breast cancer screenings, such as a breast ultrasound or a breast MRI, might be a good option for you in addition to the mammogram. Because of your dense breasts, it is quite possible that another imaging method could better detect breast abnormalities. Discuss your overall breast cancer risk level with your doctor. You may want to improve your early detection strategy, perhaps starting a monthly breast self-exam [LINK] habit or getting screenings more frequently.

Should I Still Get a Mammogram Every Year?

Yes! Dense breasts make it more difficult for mammograms to see some cancers, but mammograms are still very effective in detecting breast cancer and are the best first line of screening for most women.

If you have any questions about reading your mammogram results, help with finding a doctor, or just need to talk, SHAREing & CAREing is here to help. Give us a call or join one of our monthly cancer support group meetings. We’d love to have you.

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