New law aims to improve breast cancer detection

Beginning July 1, women getting mammograms will learn whether they have dense breast tissue that could hide cancer. This is due to recent legislation that addresses the test’s failure to detect certain cancers in women with dense breast tissue.

Under the new law, if radiologists conducting mammograms find dense breast tissue, they must send the patient a letter noting that fact – and that dense breast tissue can hide cancer. The letter will urge women to talk to their physicians about the matter.

The new “patient inform” law resulted from efforts by a breast cancer survivor, Cathryn Tatusko of Fairfax County, with support from an aptly named national awareness organization called Are You Dense.

JoAnn Pushkin, co-founder of Are You Dense, said she was pleased that Virginia has enacted the new law.

“I am thrilled that women of Virginia will join those in Connecticut and Texas in receiving this life-saving information about their breast health,” Pushkin said.

During its 2012 session, the General Assembly approved two identical measures addressing the issue: Senate Bill 544, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke; and House Bill 83, introduced by Delegate Robert Orrock, R-Thornburg. Both bills passed unanimously, and Gov. Bob McDonnell signed them into law.

Currently, after a woman gets a mammogram, her referring physician receives a report from her radiologist with a statement on her breast density. However, the patient receives a letter without medical jargon that simply says whether abnormalities were detected. Women can ask for the more detailed report, but most don’t.

Studies also show that only one in 10 women learn about breast density from their doctors.

Most women have a combination of dense and fatty breast tissue. On a mammogram, dense tissue appears white and fatty tissue appears gray.

Cancers also show up as white on a mammogram. As a result, they can be hidden by dense tissue. In contrast, against fatty tissue, cancers stand out and can be more readily spotted.

Thus, women who have very dense breast tissue have a greater risk that their cancer could be overlooked. According to many studies, cancers can be obscured more than 40 percent of the time, depending on the degree of breast density.

Tatusko approached Orrock and asked him to propose the legislation. She did so after her own ordeal with breast cancer.

Tatusko’s dense breast tissue had masked the large tumor on the yearly mammogram she had just five months before being diagnosed with breast cancer. Even a mammogram she received the day of her diagnosis failed to show the advanced-stage cancer. As of February, Tatusko is considered cancer-free.

Are You Dense was founded by another breast cancer survivor, Nancy Cappello of Connecticut. Cappello persuaded her home state to pass a “patient inform” law in 2009, and she helped women in Texas pass legislation that same year. Fourteen states besides Virginia considered such proposals this year. A federal bill is also pending.
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Richmond Montessori School earns VAIS reaccreditation


Richmond Montessori School, an independent Montessori school for children ages 2 to 14, recently earned reaccreditation from the Virginia Association of Independent Schools. The VAIS accreditation program is one of only a few recognized at the national level through the National Association of Independent School's Commission on Accreditation and is also recognized and approved by the Virginia Board of Education through the Virginia Council for Private Education. > Read more.

Business in brief


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James River Juvenile Detention Center to graduate its largest class

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The ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. at the detention center, 3650 Beaumont Road in Powhatan County. The graduates will mark their academic milestone by walking across a stage in a cap and gown before an audience of family members. A reception will follow. > Read more.

Henrico School Board selects redistricting Option E


JUNE 23, 10:30 A.M. – The Henrico County School Board Thursday concluded its latest redistricting process by selecting a plan for middle school redistricting that will impact a number of students in the western and northern parts of the county, as well as a few in Eastern Henrico.

The process sought to reduce overcrowding at Hungary Creek Middle School, create room at Wilder Middle School for a gifted academy and address the poverty level disparity among some middle schools. It will impact about 775 students, according to school system officials. > Read more.

‘Senior Cool Care’ program to help older adults in Metro Richmond


For the 27th year, Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging is helping older adults combat summer heat through a program now called "Senior Cool Care" (formerly the Fan Care program) that provides fan and air conditioning units for eligible senior citizens.

The program is available to low-income older adults age 60 and older who reside in the City of Richmond and the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan. > Read more.

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June 2017
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