Dense breast tissue, made of glandular and connective tissue, is normal and common, but it makes finding cancer on a mammogram more difficult. Very dense tissue may also increase the chance of developing cancer.
Expert groups, including the American College of Radiologists and the American Cancer Society, have expressed concerns about density legislation, pending in 18 states, including New Jersey. Not only is the assessment of breast-density subjective, but there is no consensus about whether that factor alone warrants additional screening such as ultrasound and MRI.
While recognizing patients' right to information, experts also worry that adding screening tests could worsen the documented problems of false alarms, and of detecting and treating less serious conditions.
In Connecticut - which passed the first breast-density law four years ago and requires insurance coverage of ultrasounds - a flood of the exams led to detection of more cancers. But it also led to soaring numbers of false alarms and biopsies that found no cancer - far more than with mammography.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Bob Mensch, a Republican who represents parts of Bucks and Montgomery Counties and who is a sponsor of the new law, declared in a statement: "Better communication and better screening can save lives."
The law, which does not require insurers to cover added screening tests, says mammography reports sent to women must tell them that density information is provided "to raise your awareness and to inform your conversations with your physician. Together, you can decide which screening options are right for you."