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State Sen. Simitian's (D-Palo Alto) Bill From Soquel Breast Cancer Survivor Passes Through Senate

Senate Bill 173, which requires that women are informed if they have dense breast tissue, was passed by the State Senate Friday.

A bill proposed by a Soquel breast cancer survivor passed the State Senate on Wednesday, requiring that women with dense breast tissue --which can obscure abnormalities like cancer -- must be informed after amammogram.

Senate Bill 173 passed on a 34-5 vote and will likely be voted on by the State Assembly within three weeks, said Amy Colton, the Soquel woman who submitted the idea to state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.

The bill would require that women be informed if they have dense breast tissue, told that dense breast tissue can hide abnormalities on a mammogram, and that they may wish to discuss the potential value of adding screening with their doctors.          

Colton, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, said she was shocked when she was told the cancer was in a later stage.

"Every year since the age of 40, I went for annual mammograms. I always got a clean bill of health and I didn't have any risk factors that I was aware of," said the 49-year-old Colton, who is also a registered nurse.

After diagnosis, Colton obtained the reports that had been sent to her physician, which showed she had extremely dense breast tissue on the mammograms.

Both dense breast tissue and cancer appear white on a mammogram, and it can be very difficult to tell the difference.          

"I was really appalled that I had dense breast tissue, and I was never told that mammograms were much less effective in determining cancer," she said.          

Dense breast tissue is already a risk factor, putting woman four to six times more likely to develop breast cancer, Colton said.          

She started to do research on legislation involving informing women with dense breast tissue and found that a similar bill had been passed in Connecticut in 2009, she said.

Working with the Connecticut bill's proponent Nancy Cappello, who is the founder of Are You Dense, Inc., Colton proposed the idea to Simitian through his "There Oughta Be A Law" contest.

"It was just a way to get the idea to him," Colton said.          

Her idea was one of the two selected by Simitian.          

"The bill is about giving patients the information they need to make informed decisions about their own bodies and their own health," Simitian said in a statement. "Senate Bill 173 will also save money, because treating cancer in its early stages is far less expensive than battling advanced cancer."          

Colton is optimistic about her chances of the bill passing through the Assembly, despite the opposition she has received from the California Medical Association, the California Society of Radiologic Technologists, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In the Senate Health Committee hearing -- where the bill passed 8 to 1 -- the groups did not express opposition to the research that dense breast tissue can obscure cancer, but they argued that the bill might require spending a lot of time discussing the issue with patients, according to Colton.

Spokespeople from the three organizations could not immediately be reached for comment.

With legislation in place in Connecticut, and a bill that is waiting to be signed by the governor in Texas, Colton said she hopes California will be the third state to pass a bill that informs women about their breast density.

"The bill really is just about giving women the information about their own anatomy ... so that they will have a discussion about personal risk factors," Colton said. "It's really similar to telling someone about blood cholesterol or blood pressure."

Measuring breast density in mammograms is already federally mandated, Colton said.          

"We're not asking physicians to do anything extra," she said. "We're simply asking for that information go to the patient."          

Colton, who stopped treatment for the disease last year, said she would not become involved in politics again if the bill were passed.

She did not rule out her involvement with breast cancer awareness, though.          

"Once you go through something like this, it's with you forever," Colton said.

--Bay City News Service

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