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Understanding Washington’s New Breast Density Notification Law with TRA Medical Imaging

Some people who have mammograms this year may begin receiving additional information in their mammography screening result letters. In accordance with new Washington State law, which went into effect January 2019, people throughout Washington, will start receiving additional information about breast density when they receive their results. Not everyone will receive the new information, only those that have dense breasts. Dr. Grand Tibbetts, medical director for TRA Medical Imaging in Olympia wants you to be aware of what this new law means for you.

Thurston Talk_Breast Density

Breast Density: What is it and why does it matter?

Breasts are mainly composed of two types of tissue: fatty tissue and fibroglandular tissue, which produces milk. Breast density is simply a comparison of how much fibroglandular tissue a person has compared to their fatty tissue. The ratio of the two tissue types can vary greatly between people. A person with a greater amount of fibroglandular tissue is considered to have dense breasts. Additionally, breast density seems to decrease with weight gain and age. Breast density can be identified in routine mammogram screenings.

Breast density matters for a couple of reasons. Research indicates that breast density has an impact on breast cancer rates. This information has surprised health care professionals. Initially, we just thought breast density masked the cancerous growth,” says Tibbetts, “now we know that people with dense breasts have an increased likelihood of developing breast cancer.”

In addition to increased cancer risk, dense tissue can make it more difficult for health care providers to see cancer on mammogram screenings. “In a mammogram, dense tissue appears white, and cancerous tissue also appears white, which means that dense tissue can make cancerous tissue look less conspicuous,” explains Tibbetts.

Some types of screenings can make the cancerous tissue stand out more, such as 3D mammograms. Breast MRI and Breast Ultrasound are also imaging tests that can be performed. Breast MRIs and Breast Ultrasounds have their own downsides, they sometimes pick up findings that are not cancer, leading to additional testing and invasive biopsies. Neither Breast MRI or Breast Ultrasound are intended to replace a mammogram, but they are additional imaging that can help your provider get another view of breast tissue if more clarity is needed.

Mammogram Screenings are Important

If you have less dense breasts and do not receive a breast density notification, it is still important to have regular exams and mammograms. 

If you are one of those individuals that receives the additional information about breast density, and about half of all people with breasts have above average breast density, you and your health care provider can determine if any additional tests or screening are necessary. It is important to know that the vast majority of individuals with dense breasts will never develop breast cancer.

If you have less dense breasts and do not receive a breast density notification, it is still important to have regular exams and mammograms. Many factors like age and family history impact breast cancer risk. Dense breast tissue is just one of those factors.

it is important to receive regular mammograms whether you have dense breasts or not. Mammograms are still the best screening method to detect breast cancer, and to detect it early. Early detection reduces breast cancer deaths.

An Important Note of Clarification About the New Breast Density Law

Patients that received a mammogram prior to 2019 may not have received the new mandated notification, but if they have dense breasts, then their medical professional is likely already aware. Breast density has been included in reports to health care providers for a very long time. This additional information provided to patients with above average breast density simply brings patients more in the loop when it comes to their own healthcare.

The fact remains, the single greatest risk factor to developing breast cancer is having breasts. While there are many different factors that affect the likelihood of developing breast cancer, breast density is just one of these factors. Whether you receive notification that you have above average dense breasts or not, it is important to communicate with your health care provider to ensure that you understand what types of screening or tests are most appropriate for your individual needs.