March 21, 2012
AUGUSTA – State lawmakers today held a public hearing on a measure to better inform women about the density of their breast tissue to prevent missed cancer diagnoses.
Mammograms can miss early signs of breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue. According to the national breast density advocacy group “Are You Dense?” 40 percent of women have dense breasts.
“Dense breast tissue may impede a mammogram from finding abnormalities,” said Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, the assistant House Democratic leader. “These are our breasts and we deserve to know. It is common sense that this information should be shared with women.”
The vast majority of women are unaware of the density of their breasts. Surveys from the “Are You Dense?” advocacy group show that 95 percent of women over 40 do not know their breast density and less than 1 in 10 find out from their doctor.
The bill would require that breast density be included in the letter women receive after their mammogram.
Hayes introduced the emergency bill after hearing a personal story from a constituent, Barbara Deschenes of Norway, whose tumor was masked by dense breast tissue.
Deschenes testified during the public hearing.
“Breast density is the greatest cancer risk you’ve never heard of,” said Deschenes during the public hearing. “You can't protect yourself against what you haven't even been told is a threat. Without information about our bodies, women are effectively denied the choice.”
She told lawmakers that a recent Yale University study found that additional screening of women with dense breasts has resulted in a 64 percent increase in the diagnosis of early stage of cancers.
Women with dense breasts are four to five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with low breast density, according to breast cancer foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The Maine Medical Association testified in opposition to the bill, but indicated it would work on a compromise to the measure to find the best way for doctors to educate patients on breast density.
Connecticut was the first state to enact a Breast Density notification law in 2009 followed by Texas in 2011. Fifteen states have either introduced or are in the process of drafting legislation for the 2012 session.
The Health and Human Services Committee could vote on the measure as early as tomorrow.
Jodi Quintero [Hayes] 287-1488, c. 841-6279