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Published on November 11, 2013

What Does the New Breast Density Bill Mean For Pennsylvania Women?

There’s been a major step taken to advance women’s health awareness.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett recently signed a bill requiring mammography centers to inform women about their breast density in addition to their mammography results. The objective of the law is to give women extra information to enable them to make better decisions about their health and to get testing, in addition to mammography, to screen for breast cancer if they choose to do so.

Currently, every woman who goes for a mammogram receives a letter, required by federal law, that explains her results in language she can understand. Some states, however, are now mandating that information about a woman’s breast density be included in that letter as well.

But what is breast density and why is it important?

Linda B. Griska, MD

Linda B. Griska, MD

“Every breast is composed of fat and glandular tissue,” said Linda B. Griska, MD, radiologist and director of the Breast Health Program at Abington Health. “Each breast has a certain percentage of glandular tissue in relation to the percentage of fat, which is what’s regarded to as breast density.”

There are four categories of density composition, ranging from a breast that is almost entirely fatty to one that is extremely dense. About 10 percent of women have almost entirely fatty breasts, 10 percent have extremely dense breasts, and the remaining women are somewhere in-between.

The composition of the breast is important because if it’s largely composed of fat, it’s easier to find abnormalities on mammograms, Griska added. But as breast density increases, the accuracy of the mammogram slightly decreases; the abnormalities that radiologists look for as signs of cancer can be hidden among the normal glandular tissue.

But if you discover you have breasts that are very dense, there’s no need to panic.

“While there is no hard evidence that there’s an increased incidence of breast cancer in dense breasts, legislators simply want women to be aware of their density and have the ability to discuss with their doctor if additional testing should be done,” Griska said.

If a patient chooses to receive further testing, a breast ultrasound and/or an MRI may be recommended to screen for cancer. However, note that the additional tests may not be covered by insurance.

This also, however, doesn’t mean women who discover that they have dense breasts shouldn’t receive an annual mammogram. Griska added, “Mammograms are still the most accurate test we have to diagnose breast cancer, and women should still following the screening recommendations and have them done.”

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