In a major victory in the fight against breast cancer, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-95th District) today announced the full State Legislature has passed her bill (A9586) to require every mammography report for women with dense breast tissue to state in plain, non-technical language that the patient has the condition, and should discuss with their doctor the potential need for additional screenings. The legislation, which passed the Assembly unanimously and was carried in the Senate by Sen. John Flanagan, now heads to the Governor to be signed in to law.
According to leading medical studies, breast cancer is four to six times more likely in women with dense breast tissue, and mammograms fail to detect up to 50% of tumors in dense tissue as this condition obscures their presence. This new notification requirement will ensure those with dense breast tissue are better equipped to speak with their doctors and make decisions about their care, leading to earlier detection and greater survival rates.
“When it comes to breast cancer, women have a right to know what they’re up against,” said Assemblywoman Jaffee. “This legislation will now empower women to fully understand the risks posed by dense breast tissue and ensure that, should they need it, additional screening coverage is available. We lose far too many lives to breast cancer that could and should have been detected, so it is critical women have every screening tool at their disposal to protect their health. Knowledge is power.”
Among the most forceful advocates for this legislation was JoAnn Pushkin. Pushkin, of Dix Hills, is herself a breast cancer survivor-turned-advocate and Executive Director of Are You Dense Advocacy, Inc. It was her advocacy that triggered the bill’s introduction. She first contacted Flanagan and Jaffee to share her story and lobby for action on breast density. Ms. Pushkin’s cancer went undiagnosed for five years as her annual mammograms were unable to detect a tumor through dense breast tissue. Ms. Pushkin has since gone on to offer help in the drafting of this legislation.
“It’s hard to protect yourself against what you haven’t even been told is a threat, and it’s impossible to begin a dialog about additional screening tools if you don’t even know what you should be asking about,” Ms. Pushkin said. “This legislation is about a patient’s right to know a critical risk factor in her individual health profile, so she can have an informed conversation with her physicians about planning an effective course of action.”
“Most women don’t have any idea how dense their breasts are, what it means for their risk of developing breast cancer, or that their breast density may actually be hiding tumors from detection,” said Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and interim president of the Komen Advocacy Alliance. “It needs to be regular practice for doctors to inform women about their breast density and relative risk.”
Currently, Connecticut, Texas, and Virginia are the only states in the nation with Breast Density Inform laws; 13 other states have introduced legislation that would establish such statutes, as has the U.S. House of Representatives. A recent Harris Interactive survey found that 95% of women do not know their breast density even though it is a risk factor, and less than one-in-ten women learn about breast density from their physician.