Breast density alerts may not be helping women

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By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, December 31, 2019 (HealthDay News) – Having dense breast tissue increases the chances of a woman having breast cancer, so many states require providers to notify women if a mammogram determines that they have dense breast tissue .

But a new study suggests that notifications may have little impact by alerting women about their additional risk of breast cancer.

The goal of notifications of dense breasts is to stimulate a conversation between a woman and her health care provider. The provider can tell a woman how having dense breast tissue affects her personal risk of breast cancer or detect it. And, if necessary, a woman can get recommendations for more screening tests.

However, the study found that less than half of women understood that having dense breasts increases their risk of cancer. This was true regardless of whether women lived or not in a state that required dense breast notifications.

The researchers concluded that the wording of these messages should be easier to understand.

"Health communications aimed at informing patients about cancer screening should be carefully developed through rigorous tests that guarantee the desired results of better knowledge, greater awareness and discussions with doctors," said lead author Nancy Kressin , professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Kressin added that the unwanted consequences (anxiety, confusion or omission of breast cancer screening tests) should be minimized.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on the language for notifications of dense breasts that will be used throughout the country.

"We expect the FDA to pay close attention to these problems as it develops a national breast notification," Kressin said.

Women who have dense breasts have more glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue in their breasts, but less fatty tissue. This is not something you can feel. It is only apparent on a mammogram, according to the US National Cancer Institute. UU. (NCI).

About half of women over 40 in the United States have dense breasts, the NCI said. Women with dense breasts have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

About two thirds of the US states. UU. They require a dense notification of the breasts.


For the study, researchers surveyed almost 600 women across the country. All were over 40 years old and had had a mammogram in the last two years.

The majority of women (76%) had heard of breast density, and approximately 80% knew that it referred to how breasts look on a mammogram. The researchers found no significant difference between women based on whether their status required notification.

There were also no differences in whether a woman had discussed breast density with her doctor according to the notification laws.

Kressin said the notification laws do not always require how the information is provided, so the process and the wording may vary.

"In previous studies, women told us they were so confused by notifications that they intended to stop having mammograms completely. If that happens, women run the risk of not identifying breast cancers," he said.

Kressin said notifications should be written in clear and simple language, no more than an eighth grade reading level.

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, head of breast surgery at Mount Sinai West in New York City, reacted to the findings. She said it is regrettable that the notifications appear to have so little impact on women's understanding of the risk of breast cancer.

"It seems that more needs to be done to convey the message that if a woman has dense breast tissue, she may have to do more than a mammogram and should probably advocate for a 3D mammogram and a breast ultrasound," Bernik said.

The findings were recently published online in the General Internal Medicine Magazine.

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SOURCES: Nancy Kressin, Ph.D., professor of medicine, Boston University School of Medicine; Stephanie Bernik, M.D., chief of breast surgery, Mount Sinai West, New York; December 16, 2019General Internal Medicine Magazineonline

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