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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                  
June 2, 2011

For More Information, Contact:

Melissa Figueroa (916) 651-4011 .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


– State Senator Joe Simitian’s (D-Palo Alto) bill aimed to increase breast cancer detection passed the State Senate yesterday on a vote of 34 to 5.  Senate Bill 173 requires that following a mammogram individuals with dense breast tissue be informed that:

  •  They have dense breast tissue;
  •  That 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.
A January 2011 study by the Mayo Clinic found that in women with dense breast tissue 75% 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. “Which is why,” said Simitian, “it’s so important that a patient be told they have 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,” said Simitian, “ignorance is not bliss. What you don’t know can hurt you.”

“This bill is about giving patients the information they need to make informed decisions about their own bodies and their own health,” said Simitian. “Senate Bill 173 will also save money, because treating cancer in its early stages is far less expensive than battling advanced cancer.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in eight women will develop breast cancer. The risk for women with dense breast tissue, more than half of all women, is five times greater, yet the overwhelming majority of women are unaware of their own breast density. Worse, cancer is harder to discern in dense breast tissue.

One of Simitian’s constituents, Amy Colton of Soquel, a registered nurse and a cancer survivor, suggested the 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.

“I’m thrilled that the State Senate has recognized the importance of SB 173 to the women of California,” said Colton. “This measure will provide women with important information about their physiology so that they can become more aware of their own personal risk factors for breast cancer. My hope is that the State Assembly will agree that women want to know their breast density, and deserve the opportunity for early detection of breast cancer.”

The measure is supported by Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the California Nurses Association, the Breast Cancer Fund, the California Association of Health Underwriters, and the California Communities United Institute. 

Both the California Medical Association and the California Radiological Society are opposed, however. Simitian says he is both perplexed and disappointed by opposition from the medical establishment.  “All we’re asking is that information that’s already shared between doctors be shared with the patient herself.”

Similar legislation has already passed in the state of Connecticut. Congress and the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Florida and Texas all have related legislation pending.

For more information on Senate Bill 173, visit For more information on dense breast tissue visit