New laws aims to protect women from breast cancer

Posted at: 01/15/2013 4:57 PM
Updated at: 01/15/2013 9:46 PM
By: Christine VanTimmeren

A new law is going into effect next week, in New York State, that will affect every woman who has a mammogram.

Right now, doctors are not required to tell women if they have dense breast tissue, but that is about to change. Doctors say dense breast tissue can make it more difficult to detect cancer with a mammogram.
News10NBC wanted to know how this new law will affect you, the patient, and why doctors have mixed emotions about it.

When your doctor is analyzing mammogram images, density, in its basic form, refers to the transparency of the image. So if there's more white color that's clouding the image, the more dense it's considered. Doctors say breasts that are more dense have a two fold risk, cancer is more difficult to see in dense breasts and there is increased risk of cancer. But requiring doctors to tell you about breast density is causing controversy and News10NBC wanted to find out why.
When it comes to your health, most women will agree, the more you know the better off you are.

Dr. Avice O'Connell, Director of Highland Breast Imaging, said, “We don't keep things from people anymore, they can deal with the findings and we let them know what the findings are.”

And clearly, Dr. Avice O'Connell, the Director of Highland Breast Imaging, agrees. But come this Monday, Dr. O'Connell will be required to tell patients information she may not have before.

Dr. O'Connell said, “Patients who have a mammogram, they currently get a letter telling them if it's negative or positive or if everything's okay, they will also have a paragraph in there telling them if their breast is dense. Then this lady would get a letter, she's heterogeneously dense and then this lady who is extremely dense would get a letter.”

Sounds great, right? You're learning something you didn't before. And if your breast is considered dense, you can get more testing done. So what's the negative?

Dr. O'Connell said, “There will be numerous small things that will be found which we'll call false positives, which will not be cancer. So they will cause concern, they will cause cost and they may even cause a biopsy which ultimately might be negative.”

In fact, Connecticut has this law as well and in the first year, 1,000 more women had ultrasounds, a burden on technicians.

Dr. O'Connell said, “Because right now if almost 50% of the mammograms are dense and every one of them wanted an ultrasound, and an ultrasound takes almost 20 minutes to do, we don't have enough hours in the day or staff to do the ultrasound.”

But even if only one case of cancer is found that wouldn't have been found before, Dr. O'Connell says it's worth it.

Dr. O'Connell said, “It will be a lot more work, but of course if we find more cancers we're not going to complain about that.”

Another concern for doctors is say a woman has dense breast tissue and gets an ultrasound that reveals something that could be cancer. That means a biopsy will have to be done that could ultimately show nothing. That creates more anxiety for the patient and more unnecessary procedures for doctors.

Insurance companies are not required to cover extra tests. It's up to them to decide. Excellus will cover ultrasounds if a physician recommends it, but the cost of that depends on your type of insurance.

Some may only be required to pay a co-pay, but for a high deductible plan, Dr. O'Connell says the cost is about $200.