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Lawmaker Wants Breast Density Data for Women as Part of Routine Mammogram

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - State lawmakers are considering a measure that would require health professionals to give patients information about breast density. And it would come as part of the report given to every women after a routine mammogram.

Representative Helen Miller (D-Fort Dodge) sponsored the House Bill (HF-94) which was discussed in a subcommittee meeting on Wednesday. A handful of other states already have such rules and other states are discussing the issue. Women who have what doctors consider "dense" breast tissue have a slightly higher risk for developing breast cancer.

But one radiology specialist at the University of Iowa said there is a lot to consider before making such information a mandatory part of a mammogram exam. Dr. Laurie Fajardo, a professor of Radiology at the University of Iowa, recently authored an article in a national medical journal entitled "Should Women be Informed of Breast Density?" Her opinion is "yes," but there are a number of things to consider.

Approximately 10 percent of American women have breast tissue doctors classify as "dense." But Dr. Fajardo said radiologists can look at the same mammogram images of women and disagree about what they're seeing.

"Every woman's breast tissue is different. So some women may have a diffuse, moderate density in their breast tissue and some women may not have dense tissue in the back part of their breast and be very dense in the front of their breast," Dr. Fajardo said adding that such variation sometimes makes it hard to come up with a tissue rating.

Dr. Fajardo said radiologists divide breast tissue into four broad categories to rate the density. The disagreements tend to come when doctors are looking at tissue close to a dividing line. She said her patients can already see their tissue rating and it could be included on the written reports sent to every patient after a mammogram.

But she also worried about focusing on the issue of tissue density too much.

"We need to make sure we don't scare women because we really don't know how much more risk there is for breast cancer because you have dense breasts. I think it's been a little bit exaggerated in the last few years," she said.

Dr. Fajardo supports making breast density reports a part of mammograms. But she said with one exception, states haven't made it a rule insurance companies must pay for follow up screening tests as a result of those rankings. Without insurance coverage of follow up tests, some women may be reluctant to pay for more extensive tests.

Lawmakers took no action Wednesday on the proposed law to require such information as a part of routine mammograms. The American Cancer Society in Iowa has not taken a stand on this particular issue. One spokesman said it might help a bit, but the group has other legislative priorities.

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