FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 28, 2012
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SACRAMENTO – Inspired by a breast cancer survivor in his district, State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) is reintroducing legislation to improve breast cancer detection. Senate Bill 1538 would require that following a mammogram, women with dense breast tissue be informed that:
• They have dense breast tissue;
• Dense breast tissue can obscure abnormalities (i.e., cancer) on a mammogram; and that,
• They may wish to discuss the potential value of additional screening(s) with their doctors.
Despite broad bipartisan support, a similar bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. Since the veto, Virginia has joined the roster of states with breast density notification laws, and two separate studies from the first year of a similar law’s implementation in Connecticut have shown a 100 percent increase in breast cancer detection rates in women with dense breast tissue.
“I’m reintroducing the legislation, and at the same time talking with the Governor’s office to see whether there is a path forward on which he and the Legislature can agree,” said Simitian. “While I was disappointed in the Governor’s veto, I was encouraged that his primary concern appears to have been the precise language of the proposed notice. Looking ahead, I’m hopeful we can find common ground. Based on the latest findings in Connecticut, I am even more convinced it’s a life saver.”
“Senate Bill 1538 simply requires that information that is already shared between doctors also be shared with the patient herself. It’s about a patient’s right to know,” Simitian said. “This two-sentence notice enables women to be effective advocates for their own health. These are two sentences that can save lives.”
A January 2011 study by the Mayo Clinic found that in women with dense breast tissue 75 percent of cancer is missed by mammography alone.
Because dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram, and cancer also appears white, it can be very difficult to see the cancer. “This is why,” said Simitian, “it’s so important that a patient be told she has dense breast tissue, and that the dense breast tissue may limit the ability of the mammogram to spot a problem. When it comes to your health, ignorance is not bliss. What you don’t know can hurt you.”
“Senate Bill 1538 also will save money,” Simitian said, “because treating cancer in its early stages is far less expensive than battling advanced cancer.”
“Numerous studies show that women with dense breast tissue face a higher risk of developing breast cancer, and studies also show that dense breast tissue is the most frequent reason cancer is missed by mammography,” said Santa Barbara radiologist Judy Dean. “These two facts mandate that we stop withholding density information from women, so that they can make informed decisions about their health.”
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in eight women will develop breast cancer. The risk for women with extremely dense breast tissue is five times greater than the risk for women with low breast density. Yet the overwhelming majority of women are unaware of their own breast density.
One of Simitian’s constituents, Amy Colton of Santa Cruz, a registered nurse and a cancer survivor, suggested the original bill in Simitian’s annual “There Oughta Be A Law” contest. Colton was never informed of her breast density during years of routine mammograms, and only discovered that she had dense breasts after completion of her treatment for breast cancer.
“No one should have to go through what I did unnecessarily. Women have the right to know about the risk factors they face and the limits of mammography,” said Colton. Last year, Colton visited the State Capitol a half dozen times to testify before members of the Legislature, and to visit individual legislators and their staffs to lobby on behalf of the bill.
Last year’s measure was supported by the California Nurses Association, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the California Association of Health Underwriters, Breast Cancer Fund, the California National Organization for Women, Ravenswood Family Health Center, Democratic Activists for Women Now, the Shelia R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center and the California Communities United Institute.
Similar legislation has already passed in Connecticut, Texas and Virginia. Congress and 15 states have related legislation pending.