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August 30, 2012

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


SACRAMENTO – A bill to improve breast cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue passed unanimously out of the State Senate and is now headed to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. Senate Bill 1538, authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), would require that following a mammogram, women with dense breast tissue be informed that:

• They have dense breast tissue;
• Dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of a mammogram;
• It is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer;
• Information about breast density is given to patients to discuss with their doctor; and
• A range of screening options are available.

The vote was 36-0.

Because dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram, and cancer also appears white, it can be difficult to see the cancer. 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.

“This bill is about a patient’s right to know,” said Simitian. “This bill simply requires that information that is already shared between doctors also be shared with a patient herself. It is about giving patients the information they need to be effective advocates for their own health.”

After a tumultuous two-year battle in the Legislature, and a veto by Governor Brown last year, the bill now has no opposition.

As Simitian moved SB 1538 through the Legislature this year, the bill gained broad-based support from a number of interest groups, including the California Nurses Association, the California Commission on Aging, the California Radiological Society, the National Federation of Independent Business, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, Small Business California, and the California Affiliates of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Despite broad bipartisan support, a similar Simitian bill was vetoed by Governor Brown last year. Since the veto, New York and Virginia have 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 who had supplementary screenings.

This year, SB 1538 was amended to include notice language specifically requested by Governor Brown’s office. The Governor’s office, however, made it clear that there was no commitment from the Governor to sign the bill even with the suggested language.

“While this is no guarantee that the bill will be signed, my hope is that our efforts this year will get us to ‘yes’,” Simitian said. “It’s all up to the Governor now.”

Amy Colton, a Santa Cruz resident, registered nurse and cancer survivor, suggested the idea for the bill in 2011 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 completing her treatment for breast cancer. In the past two years, Colton has made numerous trips to the State Capitol to testify in support of the bill.

“We’re closer than we ever have been to giving women the important information they need to detect breast cancer at an early stage,” said Colton. “I am extremely grateful for the unanimous support of the Legislature, that all opposition to the bill has been removed, and that, with input from the Governor’s office, we have been able to arrive at language that all parties agree upon.  I am optimistic that Governor Brown will also show his support and sign this bill into law.”

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.

“As a trusted provider of women’s preventive health care, Planned Parenthood is pleased to support AB 1538,” said Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “Breast cancer screenings are vital in helping to detect breast cancer in the earliest, most treatable stages, and to save lives. AB 1538 would help ensure all women have access to the appropriate screenings so they can make educated, informed decisions about their health.”

“We enthusiastically support SB 1538,” said Donna Sanderson, Chair of Public Policy for the seven California Affiliates of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “It will provide women with important information about their health and their risk for developing breast cancer, and help initiate discussions about screening options between women and their doctors.”

“We are pleased to support SB 1538,” said Dr. Michael Puckett of the California Radiological Society, a statewide organization representing 1,500 radiologists. “We appreciate the effort by Senator Simitian to craft legislation that provides important information in a balanced manner to women undergoing screening mammography who are found to have dense breast tissue. The bill requires a notice to such women and appropriately encourages a dialogue with her physician to consider her patient specific risk factors in deciding on the best course of care.”

Similar legislation has already passed in New York, Connecticut, Texas and Virginia. Congress and more than 15 states have had related legislation pending.

The Governor has until September 30 to act on the measure.

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