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What do women really know about breast density?

by Gus Iversen, Editor in Chief | July 06, 2020
Women's Health
From the July 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Given the different notification laws, we thought we might see more differences in terms of knowledge, but we didn’t really. The one difference we did find is that women in North Carolina were more likely to talk about being offered digital breast tomosynthesis, also called 3D mammography, and paying more to get that type of test, whereas women in California and Washington were more likely to talk about getting breast MR exams in addition to mammograms, although it wasn’t very many of them who were getting both. But honestly, women across all the states still had a lot of questions about breast density and the different screening options and what they should be getting.

HCB News: Most people seem to support the idea that breast density notification laws are a good way to keep women informed on their health risks. Do you agree with that general view? Could notification laws be improved?
KS: In general, I support the idea of notification laws and there is a national directive that should make this a requirement across all states. But based on our study and studies by others, there is a lot of room for improvement.

One problem is that breast cancer risk depends on a lot of other things besides breast density, like age and family history. So, if you only notify women about their breast density without information about their other risk factors, then women still aren’t very well informed about what their own breast density means for them and their breast cancer risk. Another problem is that the breast density notification letters, which is the primary way that women are notified, may not be written in a way that women can understand the information.

In the study, Schifferdecker and her colleagues found that many of the women had heard of 'dense breasts', or the idea that breasts could be dense, but really didn't know what having dense breasts meant.
What we suggest in our study is that a lot more work needs to go into figuring out how best to communicate information about risks, including breast density, in a way that women start to understand what it means for them and how to talk with their provider about their options. In fact, we would love to see better tools developed that women could go to as part of notifications that explain things more clearly based on their personal background.

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