Every three minutes a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 13 minutes a woman in the U.S. dies from breast cancer. Some 38 percent of breast cancers in the U.S. are diagnosed at a later stage, where the cancer has spread beyond the breast. Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography screening to detect cancer in the early stages.
Dense breast tissue is comprised of less fat and more connective tissue, which appears white on a mammogram. Cancer also appears white on a mammogram. Thus, tumors are often hidden behind the dense tissue. As a woman ages, her breasts usually become more fatty. Forty percent of women have dense breast tissue, and women with extremely dense breast tissue have a six times greater risk of developing cancer than women with fatty breasts.
The good news is that a radiologist can determine from a mammogram if a woman has dense breast tissue. The disturbing news is that as few as one in 10 women learn about breast density from their physician.
This year, I was pleased to sponsor and see passed SB32, which recommends that women who have received a mammogram be notified whether or not they have dense breast tissue. The new policy encourages radiologists and physicians to give women more information about our health.
Knowledge is power and women are smart. Given the knowledge about our bodies, we will know what to do to take care of ourselves by seeking out medical professionals who can properly advise us on the next steps to take regarding our own health concerns. However, it is critical that we receive this important information.
The good news is that there are additional cancer screening tools available for women who have been diagnosed with dense breast tissue. Screening by ultrasound, for example, increases detection of cancers at earlier stages in women with this condition.
Breast cancer is a scary diagnosis, but early detection almost always saves lives. I encourage Utah's medical community to take the recommendations of SB31 and give women all the necessary information regarding their health. I also encourage Utah's women to become more aware of their breast density, to ask questions of their health care provider and to receive regular mammograms.
If you're diagnosed with breast density, visit your doctor to discuss your health needs. It's a matter of life!
Karen Mayne is a member of the Utah Senate representing District 5 in West Valley City.