State Lawmakers Introduce Bill on Dense Breast Notifications

 (Army Medicine / Flickr) (Army Medicine / Flickr)

Identical bills introduced in the Illinois House and Senate would mandate that mammogram providers notify women whose test results show they have dense breast tissue.

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Introduced Tuesday by Rep. Michael McAuliffe (HB4392) and Sen. John Mulroe (SB2442) in their respective chambers, the legislation was spearheaded by Glenview resident Patti Beyer, who was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer despite years of normal mammogram results. (An ultrasound spotted a lesion, which was revealed through further testing to be breast cancer.)

Beyer doesn’t have a family history of breast cancer, but dense breast tissue is a risk factor for the disease – and, was, in fact, her only risk factor. According to the American Cancer Society, women who have dense breast tissue have a “slightly” higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who do not.

“A woman, I feel, has a right to know,” Beyer told Chicago Tonight in December. “It’s already in the mammography report to the doctor but unless the doctor tells you it’s kept from you.”

Breast density is only seen on mammograms and isn’t detected based on how a woman’s breasts feel, according to the ACS. Radiologists classify breast density using four categories that range from almost all fatty tissue to extremely dense with very little fat and higher percentages of fibroglandular tissue. Up to 40 percent of women worldwide have dense breast tissue, according to Are You Dense, Inc., an advocacy group founded by Nancy Cappello, Ph.D., after she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer despite 11 years of normal mammogram results. 

Beyer knew she had dense breast tissue because one of her radiologists mentioned it to her. Despite there being no statewide law, some Illinois facilities do notify patients, including the University of Chicago Medicine and NorthShore University HealthSystem.

Across the country, 31 states have mandatory breast density notification laws, according to AYD. 

Beyer has created a Facebook page to raise awareness and support for her effort to get a dense breast notification law passed in Illinois. 

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described how Beyer learned she had dense breast tissue. The story has been updated.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz | [email protected] | (773) 509-5452

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