Calif. governor signs breast density notification bill

By Kate Madden Yee, staff writer

September 24, 2012 -- After vetoing legislation last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill over the weekend that requires women in the state to be notified following a mammogram if they have dense breast tissue, according to the bill's author, Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).

"This is a lifesaver," Simitian said in a statement."I'm tremendously thankful for the governor's support of this measure, and for his willingness to listen to and work with us on this issue over the past year."

SB 1538 requires that women with dense breast tissue be notified following a mammogram, and that information about breast density be provided to discuss with their doctor.

It also requires that women are informed of the following:

  • Dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of a mammogram.
  • Dense tissue is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
  • A range of breast screening options are available.

The bill was suggested to Simitian by Amy Colton of Soquel, CA, who submitted the idea to the senator's "There Oughta Be a Law" contest in 2011. Colton was never informed of her breast density during years of routine mammograms; she discovered that she had dense breast tissue only after completing treatment for breast cancer, which her mammograms had failed to detect over several years.

Simitian's first try at breast density legislation, SB 791, passed California's Legislature in September of last year. However, Gov. Brown vetoed it that October, saying that while he supported the concept of giving patients more information about their health, the wording of SB 791 went too far by advising that additional screening might be beneficial.

SB 1538 was amended to include language "negotiated with the governor's office and a range of healthcare interests," Simitian said. As the bill moved through the Legislature this year, it gained support from a number of groups, including the California Radiological Society, the California Nurses Association, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, the California affiliates of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and the Breast Cancer Fund, according to Simitian.

Brown's signature makes California the fifth state with a breast density notification law (following Connecticut, Texas, Virginia, and New York). Legislation is also being considered in a dozen other states and in Congress. The California law will take effect on April 1, 2013.

"I'm pleased that all our work and efforts this year got us to 'yes,' " Simitian said. "This is about a patient's right to know. Patients with dense breast tissue need to know that it can hide a cancer, and that additional screening options are available. Early detection is the key."

With the enactment of SB 1538, about 30% of U.S. women are protected by mandatory breast density notification laws, said JoAnn Pushkin, executive director of Are You Dense Advocacy.

"With the leadership of Senator Simitian and the advocacy of Amy Colton, women of California will now receive critical information about their breast density," Pushkin told

Copyright © 2012

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