Nearing Consensus on Dense Tissue Bill

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

In case you missed it, yesterday was the day to ask people if they're dense. The Legislature last session officially approved Aug. 8 as Are You Dense Day. Not surprisingly, the occasion yesterday marked the reintroduction of a bill that would notify women if their dense breast tissue might interfere with mammogram results.

SB 1538 by Joseph Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has passed the Legislature before despite opposition from provider groups. Last year the governor vetoed it.

"Dense breast tissue can appear white in a mammogram, and cancer can appear white in a mammogram," Simitian said at yesterday's Assembly Committee for Appropriations hearing.

"This bill provides for a two-sentence notice that dense breast tissue can obscure cancer," Simitian said.

It is that two-sentence notice that has concerned providers, who are leery of unnecessarily alarming women by suggesting cancer concern that may not be there, particularly in a test that screens for cancer.

Simitian has amended that language somewhat in this version of the bill, he said. According to Carolyn Ginno, associate director of the Center for Government Relations at the California Medical Association, the two sides may be close on amending that language to everyone's satisfaction.

"We still have an oppose-unless-amended position," Ginno said at the hearing. "But CMA has been in conversation with a large set of stakeholders, and we did have a long and productive meeting last Wednesday. We have been working on the text of the notice, and we're closer."

The bill will remain on the appropriations committee's suspense file for now. A vote is expected soon.

Testimony for the bill came from Amy Colton, a registered nurse from Santa Cruz. "In 2009 I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer," Colton said. "And it became clear that both the radiologist and the physician who saw the mammogram knew it was inconclusive. Dense breast tissue is an independent  risk factor for cancer. This is our opportunity to offer equal access to early detection."


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