Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization, issued the following statement today regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed rule change to mammography quality standards requiring patient notification of breast density.
“The proposed rule is a positive step in patient empowerment. It should be regular practice for doctors to inform women of their breast density if their mammogram shows they have dense breasts, and to educate them about what it means for their breast cancer risk. Second, knowledge is only power if you can do something about it. That’s why it’s important that doctors discuss with their patients who have dense breasts what additional breast imaging tools might be appropriate for them. If they both agree to do additional breast imaging, such as an ultrasound or MRI, insurance companies should cover it, which is not always the case right now.”
The current standard of care for regular breast cancer screening is screening mammography. Yet for women with dense breasts, that is women who have breasts with a higher proportion of tissue compared to fat, traditional mammography alone may not be effective in detecting tumors. This is because tissues and tumors both show up as white on a mammogram. When there is a lot of dense breast tissue, an abnormality can be hard to spot, even to trained eyes. Women with high breast density are 4-5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with low breast density.
Many states in the U.S. have laws requiring health care providers to notify (send a letter to) women found to have dense breasts on a mammogram. Although this may seem helpful, there are no special recommendations or screening guidelines for women with dense breasts at this time. That’s why it is important for health care providers to have discussions with women with dense breasts about what tests might be right for them.