Albany Times Unions - Testing Can Save Lives Of Women

John J. Flanagan

May 02, 2012

Bill mandates insurers to cover MRI or other cancer exam for patients with dense breast tissue

Excerpt from Albany Times Union by Casey Seiler - May 1, 2012 

ALBANY — The backers of a bill newly introduced in the state Legislature say it could save the lives of women who don't even know they're in peril.

As many as 50 percent of tumors in women with dense breast tissue go undetected by conventional mammograms, and most women with dense tissue don't even know about this aspect of their bodies — even if their doctors do. Dense tissue tends to appear cloudy on a mammogram, potentially hiding a tumor of small or even larger size.

Townsend Montant of Shelter Island held up a tennis ball mounted on a trophy, and said that his wife's tumor had grown to that size before her cancer was detected. She died in October. On a regular mammogram, he said, the growth would have looked like "a golf ball in a snowstorm."

State Sen. John Flanagan, R-Long Island, and Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Rockland County, were joined by fellow lawmakers and advocates at the Capitol to discuss a bill that would require insurance companies to cover supplemental screenings, such as MRI or ultrasound, for women with dense breast tissue. The legislation would also require that mammography reports include clear language informing women with the physiological condition about the medical facts surrounding it — including the potential need for additional tests.

Flanagan hoped to see the bill voted on by the end of the legislative session in June.

There's no type of breast that's more likely to have dense tissue. Dr. Thomas Kolb, who has researched breast cancer as well as screening technology, said younger women tend to have a higher incidence of dense tissue: 66 percent of pre-menopausal women have it, as opposed to 25 percent of post-menopausal women. 

Cancer is four to six times more likely in women with dense tissue.

"My name is JoAnn Pushkin, and I am a time bomb," said one of several cancer survivors or relatives who told their stories at the news conference. Pushkin, who lives in Flanagan's district, discovered a lump in her breast through a self-exam, only to later learn that her tumor had been growing for five years, camouflaged from mammography.

Her radiologist and her referring doctor knew that she had dense tissue. 

"The only one who didn't know was the one with dense breasts," said Pushkin, the executive director of Are You Dense Advocacy, which has pushed for similar legislation in other states and on the federal level.

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