FDA wants to require breast density info given to women after mammograms

"If your breast tissue is more dense on mammograms, you are inherently at a higher risk of getting breast cancer."

Fred Bodimer
March 29, 2019 - 2:00 am

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — The FDA is proposing a rule that would notify women with dense breasts about increased cancer risks and how breast density may influence their mammogram results.  

Dense breast tissue makes it harder for doctors to read mammograms meaning the tests can be less accurate.

All U.S. women getting mammograms would receive information about their breast density -- under this proposal from an FDA advisory panel.  Such a law is already in place in 37 states across the nation.
SLU Care's Dr. Theresa Schwartz welcomes this move.  Dr. Schwartz is a breast cancer surgeon at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital.

"If your breast tissue is more dense on mammograms, you are inherently at a higher risk of getting breast cancer," said Dr. Schwartz.  "It's also more difficult to pick things up on a mammogram.  Knowing your breast density is a way you can start a conversation with your doctor to see if there are other types of breast imaging that would be helpful.  But it's not a uniform rule across the United States so what the FDA is trying to do is make it more of a national set of rules instead of a state-driven initiative to try and make sure women are as informed as possible about what their breast density is on a mammogram."
 Missouri and Illinois already have this breast density law in place.

"The state of Missouri actually adopted this breast density information law in 2015," said Dr. Schwartz.  "So we've been doing this for several years now."

Illinois adopted its breast density information law just last year. 

"One thing being a national guideline helps with is making sure breast density information and screening mammography awareness are a topic of conversation," said Dr. Schwartz.  "It's also very helpful if you know the FDA is encouraging these types of rules and monitoring for levels of breast density and further screening.  It further reinforces the state laws that are already in place."

How common is dense breast tissue?

"It's actually very common," said Dr. Schwartz.  "About 40-to-50 percent of the women we see getting mammography have dense breast tissue."  

If a patient is notified that she has dense breast tissue on a mammogram, Schwartz says talk to your doctor about it.

"That's a great time to bring up what to do in terms of screening with your physician," said Dr. Schwartz.  "Depending on your other personal risk factors for breast cancer, you may not only be a candidate for higher risk screening but also for more frequent follow up visits.  Every year your breast density could be different.  So it makes sense that the patient is aware of her own breast density and what that means in terms of future screening."
Regulators will now take public comments for three months before finalizing the proposal.  That's a process that can take months or sometimes years to complete.