When a doctor looks at a mammogram, he or she could mistake a tumor for dense breast tissue. In fact, a 2011 study by the Mayo Clinic showed that in 75 percent of women's mammograms that indicated dense breast tissue, doctors failed to detect cancer that was present.
That is why New York now has the Breast Density Inform Law, which requires that dense breast tissue be reported to the patient if it shows up in a mammogram. Dense breast tissue is not uncommon, but women who are aware of the associated risks are in a better position to make informed health care decisions.
According to other studies, women are at a higher risk for breast cancer if they have dense breast tissue. Those studies also suggest that dense breast tissue indicates a higher risk than if a woman's family has a history of cancer.
With mammograms, it can be difficult to distinguish between dense breast tissue and a cancerous tumor, so doctors often misread a tumor as dense, healthy tissue. If women are aware of the risks, though, they can request more detailed scans such as sonograms, MRIs or ultrasounds.
The Breast Density Inform Law requires that a report of breast density and the associated risks be sent to the patient and her doctor.
Cancer patients have significantly more options if a diagnosis comes early. If a doctor fails to diagnose cancer, then patients and their families may need to take legal action to hold the doctor or hospital accountable and receive ongoing treatment.
Source: Nyack-Piermont Patch, "Law Informs Patients of Added Breast Cancer Risk," Ryan Buncher, Oct. 22, 2013