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New Law to Address Cancer Detection for Women with Dense Breast Tissue

Dense breast tissue makes cancer more difficult to detect on a mammogram, and it increases a woman's risk of cancer, according to cancer specialists.

A new law that takes effect April 1 could improve breast cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue, according to the author of the legislation.

When it becomes law statewide in less than two weeks, SB 1538 will require that following mammograms, medical staff must inform women with dense breast tissue of the following:

  • They have dense breast tissue.
  • That dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of a mammogram.
  • That it is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • That information about breast density is given to discuss with their doctor.
  • And that a range of screening options are available.

Senate Bill 1538 was authored by former State Sen. Joe Simitian, who is now supervisor for Santa Clara County's 5th District.

Dense breast tissue makes cancer more difficult to detect on a mammogram, and it increases a woman's risk of cancer, according to Simitian's staff.

"The new law requires women to be told if they have dense breast tissue and, for those who do, suggests that they discuss with their doctor whether further screenings would be advisable," Simitian's staff said.

The law originated as a suggestion from one of Simitian's former constituents in Santa Cruz County.

Amy Colton of Santa Cruz, a registered nurse, participated in Simitian's annual "There Oughta Be a Law" contest, according to Simitian's staff.

"Colton was shocked when she was told she had breast cancer after years of normal mammograms," Simitian's staff said. "She learned that she had dense breast tissue only after her cancer treatment."

About 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue, but an overwhelming majority of women are unaware of their breast density, according to Simitian's staff.

"The risk of breast cancer for women with extremely dense tissue is five times greater than for those with low breast density," Simitian's staff said. "A study by the Mayo Clinic in 2011 found that 75 percent of cancers in women with dense breast tissue were missed by mammography alone. Both the cancer and the dense tissue appear white on a mammogram."

Senate Bill 1538 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown at the end of the 2012 legislative session, according to Simitian's staff.

"As it moved through the Legislature, it gained the support of the California Radiological Society, the California Nurses Association, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, the California Affiliates of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the Breast Cancer Fund," Simitian's staff said.

Simitian will hold a telephone "Town Hall" about the issue of early detection and the importance of the new law on April 7. To participate, call (866) 476-7782.

For more info about SB 1538, visit www.senatorsimitian.com and click on the "Are You Dense" icon. For more information about dense breast tissue, visit www.areyoudense.org or http://www.elcaminohospital.org/Womens_Hospital/Breast_Health_Center.

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