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A New York State law that went into effect on Jan. 19 will now give women the right to know if they have denser breast tissue after they receive a mammogram.

The Breast Density Inform Law, which was signed in July 2012, requires mammogram providers to send follow-up letters to patients with denser breast tissue, informing them of their status. It is possible for cancerous cells to hide in this tissue, making them difficult to detect in routine mammograms.

Once patients are informed of their status, they can decide if they would like to participate in additional screening options. Ultrasounds, for example, are more accurate in detecting breast cancer in denser tissue, according to Avice O’Connell, director of Highland Breast Imaging and Women’s Imaging at UR Medical Center (URMC).

“About half of all women have denser tissue. This new law will help us to detect breast cancer in its early stages by increasing awareness,” O’Connell said. “However, New York State did not sign a law mandating insurance companies to cover these additional screening options. This is going to drive up costs for both mammography providers and the women themselves, if they decide to go through with these options.”

Fortunately, most major insurance providers in the area have agreed to cover ultrasounds with a physician’s referral. MRI, another screening option, is typically not covered under insurance unless absolutely necessary.

“It is unclear if Medicare will cover anything at this point,” O’Connell said.

There are problems with using ultrasounds for breast cancer screening as well.

“It is common to find multiple, small masses that will need to be biopsied or checked out, and for much of the time, these will turn out to be benign, resulting in unnecessary anxiety and costs for the patient,” O’Connell added.

O’Connell explained that if a patient wants to go through with additional screenings or biopsies, they are entitled to.
However, patients who display no family history of breast cancer, particularly multiple relatives in the patient’s immediate family, can decide not to go through with them.

“Not everybody can have an ultrasound,” O’Connell said.

Experts estimate that nearly one out of every eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
Along with family history, O’Connell cited “being female and getting older” as the biggest risk factors for breast cancer.

Fox is a member of the class of 2013.

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