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Early breast cancer diagnosis law adopted by some states

The state legislature in a neighboring state recently passed a new bill requiring mammography reports to advise patients when they have "dense" breast tissue. This condition poses challenges to physicians to detect early stage breast cancer. A failure to diagnose early stage breast cancer can put Pennsylvania women in life-threatening positions. This concern spurred the New York legislature to act.

This legislation requires that medical professionals advise women with dense breast tissue to consider additional tests, including ultrasound or MRI procedures, to help diagnose any early cancer issues or confirm that the patient is free from concern. A $2,000 fine will be levied on medical professionals who fail to notify patients of the condition and discuss additional screening.

The governor and his staff are reviewing the bill in detail. There is no indication yet if the governor will sign the bill into law. While no strong opposition to the legislation has surfaced, supporters contend that up to 40 percent of women have this condition. This dense tissue often serves to hide tumors from mammography reviewers.

Receiving mammography results that are considered "normal," these women and their physicians remain unaware if any tumors are present. The New York legislature noted they have received first-person accounts from women who faithfully had mammographies and were told that results were normal. However, this dense tissue hid cancerous growths from radiologists evaluating their test results.

Connecticut was the first state to pass a similar notification law in 2009. The American College of Radiology, while not opposing notification laws, has recommended that legislators also consider the effects and costs of higher demand for ultrasound and/or MRI tests. They further noted there is no hard evidence that false positives would decrease with ultrasound or MRI screenings.

Not everyone is convinced that notification laws will save lives. For example, radiologists opposed similar legislation in Virginia. They believed that many women would suffer unwarranted alarm and become burdened with extra medical costs. Their lobbying succeeded in modifying their state's bill to inform patients of a density condition, but eliminated the requirement to suggest additional screenings.

How do you feel about this or similar legislation? Do you believe the extra concern and cost is a fair tradeoff for women who may learn about breast cancer problems earlier?

Source: CNBC, "NY bill would notify women of dense breast tissue," The Associated Press, June 27, 2012

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