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New Illinois law requires hospitals to notify women if they have dense breasts

Beginning in January, women who receive mammograms may receive letters of notification from Centegra Health System if they have dense breasts. In accordance with Senate Bill SB2314, a new Illinois law will require hospitals including Centegra’s facilities to notify women about breast density.

“About 50 percent of the women we see have dense breast tissue, and it is not abnormal,” said Joanna Rossi, an independent radiologist and director of breast imaging for Centegra Health System. “It can, however, make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram. Dense breast tissue may also increase breast cancer risk. It is not our intention to alarm women if they receive this notification as we are simply sending letters as required by Illinois law. We encourage women to speak with their doctors about their individual breast cancer risk.”

A patient is considered to have dense breasts when a radiologist describes breast tissue as “heterogeneously dense” or “extremely dense.” To address the requirements of the new Illinois law, a woman will receive a letter if her mammogram shows she has dense breasts.

Dense breasts have more fibrous tissue than fatty tissue. This dense tissue appears white on a mammogram. It also can include supporting tissue and ductal tissue. Fatty tissue appears gray on a mammogram. As some women age, their breast tissue becomes less dense and easier to visualize on a mammogram.

Centegra Health System currently offers 3-D mammography called tomosynthesis at the Centegra Gavers Breast Center for women who have dense breasts. This new technology captures multiple images of the breast at different angles to provide a reconstructed 3-D image of the breast. Tomosynthesis allows radiologists to evaluate breast tissue in one-millimeter slices.

Tomosynthesis may increase cancer detection and reduce the number of women who need to come back for repeat mammograms when compared with standard digital mammography. Tomosynthesis can sometimes find evidence of breast cancer that is obscured by overlapping breast tissue. Patients with dense breasts may benefit from tomosynthesis screening.

Centegra offers answers to frequently asked questions about breast density at centegra.org/breastdensity. Patients who have additional questions can also use the web page to communicate with Centegra experts. To schedule a mammogram at a Centegra location, call 815-334-5566.