Cancer Detection: Should Doctors Inform Patients of Breast Density?

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – Nearly five years later, the memory of discovering a lump on her breast is still vivid to Jennifer Wiseman.

“I couldn’t believe it. I looked down and saw a lump,” recalled the newlywed and mother of two young girls. “What did I do to deserve this? Why did it have to happen to me?”

Doctors diagnosed Wiseman with breast cancer, and within a month, she had a double mastectomy. She’s since had reconstructive surgery and is now on a mission to educate Arkansas women about the importance of knowing their bodies.

Dense breast tissue shows up on a mammogram as solid white, but so do tumors which often makes it difficult to detect cancer. Fatty breasts tend to be transparent on a mammogram, making cancer easier to spot. About 40 percent of women have dense breasts.

“No doctors or anyone said, ‘Oh you have dense breasts,'” she said.

“It probably wouldn’t happen without the help of a law,” explained Dr. Amanda Ferrell with Baptist Health. Dr. Ferrell is talking about a wave of notification laws across the country that encourage women with dense breasts to talk with their doctor about additional screening options.

Currently, 24 states require doctors to notify patients with a letter. Twelve other states are considering similar legislation, but Arkansas is not one of them.

“Nobody has picked it up. Nobody has been interested,” added Dr. Ferrell.

In 2012, Dr. Ferrell helped draft a bill with other local doctors hoping it would become law, but it never advanced. Advocates believe the laws empower women to own their health, but critics disagree.

“That is another part of it that is very problematic. It’s a little bit of a mixed bag. Not many cancers, but cancers that you do find, tend to be the bad kind.”

A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that offering an ultrasound to women with dense breasts after a clean mammogram will not improve breast cancer survival rates significantly, but it does raise health care costs.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” Wiseman stated. While she doesn’t believe knowing sooner about her dense breasts would have helped her case, she believes a notification law is critical. “It may save one life. It may save 10. It may save 100. You never know.”

Many doctors say breast density can be a sign of increased breast cancer risk. Bottom line, when in doubt, ask your doctor and know your body.

In addition, don’t forget about the importance of monthly self-exams. Learn more here.

Five facts about dense breast tissue:

Source: Are You Dense Advocacy

1) 40% of women have dense breast tissue.

2) Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography to detect cancer.

3) Mammography misses every other cancer in dense breasts.

4) Breast density is a well-established predictor of breast cancer risk.

5) High breast density is a greater risk factor than having two first degree relatives with breast cancer.

Wiseman is part of the Young Survival Coalition (www.youngsurvival.org), which helps provide resources to young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer before their 40th birthday.

She’s holding a local fundraiser in October and plans to auction off decorated bras. She’s already received bra donations from Robin Roberts of ‘Good Morning America’, the band Wilson Phillips, and actress Mary Steenburgen.


By Ashley Blackstone

Original article:  http://www.thv11.com/story/news/health/2015/07/29/cancer-detection-should-doctors-inform-patients-of-breast-density/30834699/

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