After years of normal annual mammograms, Amy Colton was surprised to hear she had advanced stage breast cancer. The Santa Cruz nurse says she found out later her test results always noted she had dense breast tissue, which can sometimes obscure abnormalities. Dense tissue and cancer both show up white.
"I was really outraged that this information about my own physiology, this important critical information, was never shared with me," Colton said.
Colton is teaming up with State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, to re-introduce a bill that forces doctors to warn women who have dense breast tissue to get further testing at the time they get their mammogram results. They say the law is needed because 40 percent of women who get a mammogram have dense breast tissue.
"The information is already assessed by the radiologist, already provided to the referring physician," Simitian said. "The only person who doesn't get the information is the patient herself and that's just wrong."
But the California Medical Association says not all women with dense breast tissue need further testing and that the warning should be at the doctor's discretion.
"There are certain women, certain women, where when they have extremely dense breasts and meet the risk criteria, they ought to have some further testing," Dr. Ruth Haskins said.
Gov. Jerry Brown seems open to reconsidering the proposal. He vetoed a similar bill last year after consulting with doctors from UCLA and UCSF.
"They both felt that warning was too much in terms of a physician-patient relationship," Brown said. "I think we can get there."
Simitian notes Connecticut has a similar law in place and studies there show early detection of breast cancer increased 100 percent in women with dense breast tissue.