Last year I wrote about a woman named Nancy Cappello who is on a mission to raise awareness about breast density scores. Doctors rank breasts on a scale from 1 to 4 to characterize how dense they are, because dense breasts (those with a higher percentage of connective tissue) make mammograms harder to read, and cancer harder to detect.
Cappello was diagnosed with stage 3c breast cancer shortly after receiving an "all clear" mammogram. Luckily she survived and made it her goal to advocate for laws that require doctors to tell women if they have dense breasts. She reasons that if women know that their breasts render mammograms less reliable they can decide whether to request sonongrams or MRIs in addition to the standard mammogram. And even if you don't choose to routinely get additional tests, you won't let a mammogram give you a false sense of security if you know that mammograms are less accurate on breasts like yours.
In part because of Cappello's work, laws mandating that doctors inform women about breast density have been enacted in numerous states, including New York, Texas and—as of last week—California. The Los Angeles Times has a provocative blog post that lets three doctors explain why they're wary about the effects of the law, well-intentioned though it obviously is. The one that stands out most to me from the patient's perspective is that the laws will lead to more radiation, in the form of MRIs and other follow-up tests, and more radiation will wind up causing some cancers. You can learn more about the possibility that breast cancer screening tests actually cause some breast cancers here.