LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - One West Michigan woman has taken her quest to make sure women are aware of their breast's density to the state capitol.
Target 8 first reported Teresa Hendricks-Pitsch's story in April 2012. A bill about breast density that would make it mandatory for radiologists to tell women if they have dense breast tissue was introduced last year by then-state Rep. Roy Schmidt. That bill ended up not going anywhere.
But now there's a new bill in the health committee. This one is sponsored by the legislator who took Schmidt's seat, Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids).
Hendricks-Pitsch has met with six law makers on the health committee thus far.
Hendricks-Pitsch is a breast cancer survivor. She told Target 8 she had dense breast tissue that obscured cancer until it got to an advanced stage. She underwent chemotherapy and surgery and eventually went into remission.
She said that she believes if she had known her breast tissue was dense, she would have gotten different types of tests.
The current bill was introduced in February and has sat in the House Health Committee since then. It needs to have a hearing and be voted out of the committee in order to go to the floor of the House and have a chance of becoming law.
Hendricks-Pitsch decided to head to Lansing to sit down with individual lawmakers to try to move the process along.
"The reason we're here today is because the bill has been introduced but it has not been put on an agenda," Hendricks-Pitschs aid as she walked from office to office. "I came to Lansing because also I felt like the bill was just lingering, and it wasn't taking any positive steps. So I wanted to see what could be done to really get it moving and on the agenda so we could get a hearing and actually move forward."
Target 8 was told repeatedly to speak with Health Committee Chair Gail Haines about the progress of the bill. She did not return a phone call for comment, walked away from our investigators in the capitol and then ran away from our investigators down a hallway -- yelling behind her that our crew should not follow her -- instead of answering any questions about it.
A patient's breast density, either described as fatty, scattered fibroglandular tissue, heterogeneously dense or extremely dense, is available now, but patients have to ask for it in many places.
The new bill would require patients be notified after a mammogram if they have extremely dense -- or what's called heterogeneously dense breasts. Those are breasts where more than half of the tissue is dense. Those two groups, a local expert told Target 8, make up about 45% to 50% of women.
Dense tissue shows up as white on mammograms, as do tumors, so dense tissue can hide small cancers.
Hendricks-Pitsch hopes the bill will encourage women to get more or different testing.
"I think that if you have to go through a temporary anxiety and learn it's a false positive that's the least of your problems," said Hendricks-Pitsch. "People don't die from a false positive but they can die from a false negative."
Dr Thomas Getz, a radiologist and the medical director of Spectrum's Betty Ford Breast Care Services, said density is just one factor women should consider when they decide how to best handle their health.
"I think it's important for women to be informed, but it's also a decision that women need to make about what their insurance company will cover, what their other risk factors are and that's why it's important to talk to my doctor to make an informed decision," Getz said.
He pointed out that basing decisions only on density could create either a false sense of security or panic, depending on the results. He stressed density should be considered alongside factors like age and family history.
"The other controversial thing is what screening is best for women with dense breasts. So MRI is very good for women with dense breasts, but it's also very expensive, and a lot of insurance companies won't cover it as a supplemental screening test unless there are other risk factors," Getz said. "Whole breast ultrasound can find additional breast cancers too, but it can also find a lot of other things that can end up getting biopsied. So we end up doing a lot of unnecessary biopsies when we screen with whole breast ultrasound."
He also said that usually only about 10% of masses found through an ultrasound and biopsied are cancerous:
"You end up doing ten biopsies for every cancer you find, so that's why we don't recommend whole breast ultrasound is that it causes a lot of unnecessary biopsies."
Getz did bring up a newer type of technology Spectrum offers called, breast tomosynthesis. It's described as a "three-dimensional (3D) screening tool that captures clearer images than conventional mammography." Getz said it's more accurate, but it's also newer technology and some insurance companies don't cover it without other health factors.
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