Beginning this weekend, women who have dense breast tissue must be notified at the time of their mammogram and offered the option of additional screenings.
New York is the 6th state to adopt a similar law but it is not without controversy.
“The downside is that people may be worried and assume that there is something hiding and they must have an extra test,” says Dr. Avice O’Connell of the University of Rochester Medical Center.
40 to 50 percent of women have dense breast tissue which makes it harder to find the cancers and there may be more of them. “The problem with more testing is false positives,” says Dr. O’Connell.
In Connecticut- the first state to enact the law- every thousand woman who requested an additional ultra sound screening only three were diagnosed with cancer. Advocates say that saves lives but some question the undue anxiety for the others.
Doctors say the best advice is to know your other risk factors.
“They should open a discussion with their own personal doctor and discuss whether they needed additional tests especially if they have risk factors like a family history,” says Dr. O’Connell.
Cost is another issue. In some states the law requires insurance companies to pay for the additional testing. That is not the case in New York.
So far Excellus has indicated it will pay for the ultra sound screenings. Doctors hope other insurance companies will follow suit.
UPDATE: Here is the response from the founder of D.E.N.S.E NY (Density Education National Survivor's Network)
Thank you for your coverage of this important issue! New York's Breast Density law was initiated for at my request and I worked closely with the NYS legislature and radiological experts from first to last word of the law. Just wanted to clarify two points, if I may:
- The first is that New York is one of only five states with a Breast Density Inform Law (others are CT, VA, TX and CA).
- The second is that the additional ultrasound cancer "find" rate in Connecticut after their law's enactment was 3.2/thousand for the first year, and 4.8/thousand for the second year – which is, in fact, about the same cancer"find" rate of screening mammography. Notably, the addition of screening ultrasound in women with dense breasts doubles the number of cancers found by mammogram alone.
Based on the CT statistics, it is estimated that at least 2,500 NYS women a year with dense breasts, leave their mammograms being told all is "normal/negative" but who actually have invasive breast cancer that would be found if they were sent for screening ultrasounds. That's a 9/11 every year of missed invasive cancers. A sobering statistic, indeed.
(Density Education National Survivors' Effort)