NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Food and Drug Administration is proposing the first changes to breast cancer screenings in decades.
It wants to require mammogram providers to notify women about their breast tissue density, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported Thursday.
About half of women over age 40 have dense breasts. High breast density can obscure cancer signs and it is also a risk factor for breast cancer. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and 34 other states already require doctors to notify women of their breast density. Now it will be national.
“They didn’t tell me the implications of dense breasts. I wish I had known,” one woman said.
“I did not know that there actually are cancers that cannot be seen by mammography,” another said.
Those women were telling their stories to a non-profit organization called Dense Breasts Canada. In all cases their mammograms had missed their cancers because they had dense breasts.
The density of breasts depends on the proportion of fatty fibrous tissue to glandular tissue in the breast, and the only way to tell breast density is with a mammogram.
“Some people will come in and say, ‘I think my breasts are very dense. They feel lumpy, bumpy,’ but that’s actually not related,” said Dr. Marleen Meyers of NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center. “Density just has to do with how much tissue you have in your breast versus the fibro-fatty tissue.”
Meyers, a breast cancer oncologist, said the reason we care about breast density is because dense breast tissue is a cancer risk factor can obscure a cancer on a mammogram.
A radiologist would be hard pressed to see a cancer in a dense breast and is possible a cloudy mammogram would block from sight the cancer that was actually there.
So, what’s a women to do if she’s told she has dense breasts under the new proposed guidelines?
“Should she have an ultrasound? Should she have an MRI? And this decision and isn’t made simply because a reports says you have dense breasts. It’s made also based on what the woman’s breasts feel like, what age is she, what’s her family history, are there other risk factors,” Meyers said. “So it gives the person an opportunity to be more more proactive in their own care and bring it up with their physician.”
The FDA would also tighten its regulation of mammogram facilities, giving the agency the power to notify patients if problems are found at a center and providing patients more detailed information about their mammography facility.
One good way to check is to look for an MQSA certification plaque at your site.