A life-saving letter: What dense breast tissue means for women

LANSING, MI (WLNS) – A year ago 6 News told you about a new law in Michigan mandating doctors to let women know if they have dense breast tissue if it shows up in their mammogram by sending a letter.

Since then hospitals across the state have sent thousands of letters to women with dense breast tissue.

Our Alexandra Ilitch checked-in with doctors to see how effective it’s been and how the law has helped to potentially saves lives.

“For the first time ever in Michigan, women are going to have the information needed to catch cancer early and that way save their own lives,” said Theresa Hendricks-Pitsch, breast cancer survivor.

That was Theresa Hendricks-Pitsch last year after Michigan’s breast density bill became law.

She was among the many who pushed for it and it’s doing exactly what she hoped it would.

“We have discovered several women that have, that tend to be younger that have dense breast tissue that we have found malignancies in,” said Dr. Alfredo Delafe, Sparrow Hospital.

Dr. Alfredo Delafe is a doctor at Sparrow Hospital. He says 40 percent of his patients have dense breast tissue.

Last October Sparrow Hospital became the first hospital in Lansing to get 3D imagining technology to scan for dense breasts.

Since then doctors have conducted about 19,000 and 2,600 of them using the 3D machines.

Within the last year Sparrow has sent more than 8,200 letters to patients saying they have dense breast tissue.

Allowing for that one more piece of information that could save a life.

“Those malignancies probably are found at an earlier stage then they would otherwise have been found. So we may be saving their lives.”

At Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital Dr. David Williamson says they see nearly 16,000 patients a year and have sent thousands of those letters this past year as well.

“25 percent of the total have met the criteria justify sending them a letter. And that number comes out to about 38…3,800,” said Dr. David Williamson, Henry Ford Allegiance Health.

Doctors say it’s been a game changer.

“The intent of the law has been justified. I think that the intent of the initial investigation or the production of the awareness has been justified, but there’s some components that I do have some concerns about.”

And with all the good that comes out of it. Doctors say there’s some bad as well, the cost.

“I think that the more that people become aware of the need for additional imaging with the dense breast, the insurance companies are going to have to step up and pay for this.”

However at Allegiance Hospital, Dr. Williamson says they’ve taken care of that problem.

“Originally we wrote in tomosynthesis has one of the options or 3D mammography as one of the options.. That you might want to consider in addition to mammography if you got a letter saying you have dense breast. We no longer need that statement in our letters because we offer tomosynthesis upfront for every patient that has a screening modality.”

Reporter: “Do you think that it’s working?”

“Yes to a certain extent. You have to realize that women are coming in and this is the first time that they’re getting that notification so the real affect is going to be next year, when they start coming back for the follow up mammograms.”

If you get a letter in the mail saying you have dense breast tissue, it’s not necessarily something you should worry about.

It just lets you know that getting a traditional mammogram may not clearly show cancerous tumors if there could be any.

If you get a letter, you’re encouraged to follow up with your doctor.

The good news is 3D breast imaging technology has started popping up all across our state since the law took effect last year.

For more information about where you can find one, watch 6 News at 6 on Tuesday when Jane Aldrich tells you about a special imagine center for women that offers all kinds of diagnostic tools under one roof.


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