Breast Density Bill Passes California Legislature

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SB 1538, a state bill to require California physicians to inform patients who have dense breasts has passed the state Senate on a unanimous vote for 36 to 0. Earlier this week, it passed the California State Assembly with a 68-0 vote.

Now advocates for the bill have only one more hurdle to leap. Governor Jerry Brown, who last year vetoed similar legislation, must sign the bill for it to become law.

Last year, Governor Brown wrote that he vetoed the legislation, not because he did not believe women had a right to know if they had dense breast tissue or not, but because the proposed legislation also mandated that women with dense breast tissue be advised that additional screening may be beneficial. (Click here to download a PDF of his letter on the issue.) As the ACR, the Society for Breast Imaging (SBI), and other medical groups have pointed out, the research supporting additional screening in women with dense breasts is still very limited and so far mammography is the only breast cancer screening test that has been shown to save lives.

SB 1538 — the Breast Density Inform Bill — uses more tempered language than last year's legislation. It requires that women determined to have heterogeneously dense breasts or extremely dense breasts based on the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System established by the ACR would be sent the following notice as part of the federally-required written report sent to the patient:

Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

This information about the results of your mammogram is given to you to raise your awareness and to inform your conversations with your doctor. Together, you can decide which screening options are right for you. A report of your results was sent to your physician.

If Governor Brown finds that this text satisfies the concerns he voiced last year, and he signs, the law will become effective on April 1 of next year.

SB 1538 is sponsored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). Because of California's term limit law, this is his last shot at getting the legislation passed. The Mercury News reported today that he says it is at the top of his list of priorities for his final session, which ends tomorrow.

Simitian became involved when a constituent, Amy Colton, a nurse and breast cancer survivor who suggested the law to him. Her letter responding to Gov. Brown's veto last year is also available online. Click here to download the PDF.