SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors this week declared its continued support for patients with dense breast tissue, and unanimously approved a resolution from County Supervisor Joe Simitian declaring the County’s support for the Find It Early Act, legislation currently pending in Congress.
“Our state and our nation have made incredible progress in improving the detection and treatment of breast cancer, including for patients with dense breast tissue,” said Simitian. As a California State Senator in 2012, Simitian authored Senate Bill 1538, which required that, following a mammogram, women are notified if they have dense breast tissue, and of the range of screening options available to them. “Nevertheless,” said Simitian, “we can always do more. And we should.”
An overwhelming majority of women are unaware of their breast density, even though nearly half of women over 40 have dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue makes abnormalities like cancer more difficult to see on a mammogram, and indicates a woman’s increased risk of breast cancer.
With the passage of Simitian’s SB 1538, California became one of the first states in the nation to require that women be notified if a mammogram found that they have dense breast tissue. It also informed patients that dense breast tissue can make it more difficult to detect cancer.
This past March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a ruling that establishes national standards that promote access to quality mammography services. This includes required notices that must be provided to women with dense breast tissue to help women make better decisions about what medical screenings or care they may need.
Roughly a year from now, this new federal rule will take effect, improving breast cancer screening in women with dense breast tissue. The new national noticing requirements take effect no later than September 10, 2024 — appropriately, the same month in which World Dense Breast Day occurs — giving facilities time to come into compliance.
By requiring information about dense breast tissue, the federal rule will ensure that women in all 50 states are better informed. Simitian said he was “heartened by the fact we now have a nationwide policy, but I’m struck by the fact it comes literally a decade after we took action here in California.”
Since that time, technology has come a long way. Digital breast tomosynthesis — currently used at about half of the nation’s health facilities — is quickly gaining in popularity and should be more widely accessible in the near future. For some women, depending on their breast density and cancer risk, MRI or ultrasound screening may be recommended.
Introduced in December 2022 by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Congressman Brian Kirkpatrick (PA), the Find It Early Act would require all insurance plans to cover these diagnostic tests without additional cost to the patient due to insurance co-pays or deductibles. While most plans cover mammograms, breast MRIs and ultrasounds are often more costly, forcing some women to skip these tests due to the additional out-of-pocket expenses. By requiring insurance companies to cover these treatments at no cost to the patient, fewer women will skip these additional screenings that might catch tumors missed by traditional mammograms, thereby potentially saving lives.
“Mammograms, MRIs, and tomography are essential tools for reducing pain, suffering, and mortality due to breast cancer,” said Simitian. “Sadly, despite all the progress we’ve made, breast cancer is still a leading cause of death for women in our County. We’re grateful for Congressman Leon Panetta for cosponsoring the legislation, and call on our local congressional delegation to support and cosponsor the Find It Early Act.”