California lawmaker reintroduces breast cancer detection bill

March 28, 2012 

A California lawmaker is reintroducing a bill to help improve breast cancer detection.

Senate Bill 1538 being reintroduced by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, would require women to be informed of the density of their breast. It’s harder to detect cancer in women with dense breast because dense breast tissue reads white, just as an abnormality or cancer would in a mammogram.

Last year, a similar piece of legislation, Senate Bill 173 sponsored by Simitian, was passed by the state’s House and Senate, but was later vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

”I think it’s important to revisit the topic, “Simitian told reporters Wednesday during a conference call.

Dense breast tissue is a significant risk factor for cancer, he said. In addition, for women with dense breast tissue, a mammogram is limited advocacy. “That means there’s twice the reason to be concerned,” he said.

Most of the bill remains the same, he said. What the two-sentence notice in the bill does is give patients the information they need to understand what a mammogram does and doesn’t convey to them, and to encourage them to work with their physicians if they need additional information. “It’s just two sentences,” he said. “But it’s two sentences that can save lives.”

Amy Colton, a registered nurse in Santa Cruz, first approached Simitian for the piece of legislation. She had no history of breast cancer, and began to get her mammograms when she was 40.

Colton was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 47, which was shocking for her, given her routinely mammograms. Her radiologist and doctor knew she had dense breast tissue. “The only one who didn’t know this information was me because I was never told,” she told reporters.

Colton underwent several surgeries and treatment to save her life. She said women have the right to know the density of their breast. “I believe that this is a great injustice for every woman to find out that she has dense breast tissue after she has been diagnosed,” she said. “I’m hoping that by sharing my story I would help prevent what happened to me from happening to others.”

Dr. Judy Dean, a diagnostic radiologist who has a practice in Santa Barbara, said she already informs her patients of their breast density. Over 30 women in her practice had early cancer detection because they were notified of their density, she said. “Early detection of breast cancer can save lives,” she said.

Connecticut is the only state that requires doctors to let women know their breast density at the time of a mammogram. The law has had positive outcomes. “The results are extraordinarily compelling,” Simitian said.

He said he remains hopeful that the results from Connecticut’s law will make the case stronger for the bill and increase the chances of it becoming law in California as well.

Brown’s concerns appeared to be regarding the précised language in the notice. Simitian said he hopes to work together to find a common ground on the wording of the notice.

-Yesenia Amaro

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