Advocacy group urges expanded coverage of breast cancer screening

A leading cancer group this week is urging expanded coverage of breast cancer screenings for a particularly high-risk group: women with dense breasts. 

Traditional mammograms are unreliable for detecting tumors in women with dense breasts — those with more tissue than fat — according to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance. Such women are four to five times more likely to develop breast cancer, the group says, yet 95 percent of women over 40 don't know a thing about their own breast density or its risks. 

“Most women don’t have any idea how dense their breasts are, what it means for their risk of developing breast cancer, or that their breast density may actually be hiding tumors from detection,” Nancy G. Brinker, founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and interim president of the Komen Advocacy Alliance, said in a statement. “It needs to be regular practice for doctors to inform women about their breast density and relative risk.”

The group says early detection of cancer in high-density breasts is difficult because tumors and tissue both come up as white on a mammogram. The group is encouraging doctors and patients to discuss the appropriateness of additional screening methods — including digital mammography, ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The Advocacy Alliance is also calling for mandatory coverage of those services among the nation's insurance companies — something that's "not always the case right now," the group says.

"Knowledge is only power if you have the ability to do something with it," Brinker said. "That’s why it’s important that insurance cover additional screenings as appropriate, and that we continue to develop more effective technologies."