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New Barto law will inform and save women’s lives

Governor Jan Brewer has signed SB 1225 into law. This bill, sponsored by Senator Nancy Barto of Phoenix, would require health care providers to tell women if they have dense breast tissue. This, according to Senator Barto, will allow women to make the most informed decision possible when screening for breast cancer, and likely save many lives.

According to the American College of Radiology, an estimated 50% of women have dense breast tissue. The American Cancer Society believes dense breast tissue may increase the risk of breast cancer. Dense breast tissue also makes it harder for doctors to see cancer on mammograms. On those mammograms, both dense breast tissue and masses or tumors look white. Consequently, normal dense breast tissue can hide masses or tumors. In this case, women with dense breast tissue have the option to seek additional tests, such as an ultrasound or MRI, to screen for breast cancer.

This shortcoming of mammogram screening was something Nancy Cappello was unaware of until 2004, when she was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer, after a nearly a decade of normal mammogram results. For years her doctor had failed to tell her that her breasts were dense. After six surgeries, five months of chemotherapy, and 24 radiation treatments, Nancy beat her cancer. Nancy could have been spared the massive cost and suffering of beating her cancer if she had been made aware of her dense breast tissue and taken the appropriate screening tests. This, according to Senator Barto, is the genesis of SB 1225: to require healthcare providers to notify women of their breast density and prevent situations like that of Nancy Cappello from reoccurring.

Since beating her cancer, Nancy has become a legislative advocate for standardized dense breast tissue notification. After founding the nonprofit group Are You Dense Advocacy, Inc., Nancy and other advocates have been able to enact breast density legislation in 14 states and introduce legislation in another 10 states.

Here in Arizona, Dr. Nicole Saphier, a Scottsdale radiologist and breast health advocate, assisted Senator Barto with the legislation. “This legislation is a milestone for countless generations of women in Arizona, and will add to the ongoing ripple effect to involve all women,” said Dr. Saphier.

When asked what she hopes the outcome of this legislation will be, Dr. Saphier said she hopes that women in Arizona will have full disclosure regarding their breast health.

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