SALT LAKE CITY — Advocates adorned lawmakers with pink flower boutonnieres Thursday in celebration of the Senate's unanimous support of a bill requiring a warning from health care providers to women with dense breast tissue that they are at risk of a mammogram not finding their cancer.
HB258, sponsored by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, requires a statement accompanying a woman's mammogram results that such a characteristic "can make it more difficult to fully and accurately evaluate your mammogram and detect early signs of cancer in the breast."
"This information is being provided to inform and encourage you to discuss your dense breast tissue and other breast cancer risk factors with your health care provider. Together, you can decide what may be best for you," the statement would say.
An earlier version of the bill also includes the following in the required warning: "You might benefit from additional professionally recognized forms of cancer screening examinations, depending on your personal risk factors and family history."
An amendment deleting the phrase was approved earlier this week by the Senate Business and Labor Committee. Christensen this week promoted the new version as "broader for the discretion of the health care provider in consultation with the patient."
The original iteration of HB258 narrowly cleared the House on Feb. 16, passing by a 39 to 31 vote. A bill must reach 38 votes in order to pass the House.
Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, and Rep. Michael Kennedy, R-Alpine, both of them doctors, argued on the House floor at that time that the measure could incite anxiety and cause some to undergo prohibitively expensive procedures that are flawed.
"Even with all (its) weaknesses, mammography is currently the only screening test for breast cancer that has evidence that it reduces deaths at all," Ward said then, adding that other types of screening "do not have evidence that they reduce the death rate."
Christensen and a handful of others said during earlier House debate that the state needed to protect women's right to know about the limitations of their mammograms and to make their own health decisions based on that additional information. Close to half of all women have dense breast tissue, but they are largely unaware of the challenges it poses to the effectiveness of a mammogram, Christensen has said.
The updated bill passed the Senate on Thursday by a 25-0 vote. Because it was amended in the Senate committee, it must be considered by the House again.
Darla Stevenson, a stage 4 breast cancer survivor from Provo who has attended hearings in support of HB258, said its initial narrow passage in the House "floored me," but that she's grateful it appears to have stronger support now.
Stevenson was diagnosed with her advance form of cancer in November 2016. But her doctors have told her, she said, that it was likely present when a mammogram cleared her two years earlier.
At the time of the mammogram, she said, "I was told there was nothing, that it was fine." She never knew before her later cancer diagnosis that she had dense breast tissue.
"Had I been told I had dense tissue, it could have been caught and diagnosed two years before," Stevenson said. She is disappointed that doctors need a law requiring them to warn certain patients about the limitations of their cancer screening.
Stevenson underwent a double mastectomy and a full regimen of heavy chemo therapy and radiation. She was declared cancer free in October. But she knows other women who are diagnosed as late as she was have not been so fortunate.
She said she felt compelled to support HB258 out of the hope that "I can keep even one woman from going through what I've gone through."
The Huntsman Cancer Institute spoke out in favor of HB258 early in the legislative session.