Dense breast tissue can lead to complication in diagnosing cancer

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on November 4, 2011 at 12:27 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 4 at 11:58 AM

DALLAS - Henda Salmeron is a successful real estate agent, and an educated woman who has always followed doctor's orders for regular mammograms.

So when the 45-year-old mother of two was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 after she felt a lump, she was stunned.

"My first question was, how can you miss a four centimeter tumor on a mammogram?" Salmeron said. "Seriously, I didn't understand how it's possible. And it was the first time in my life I heard the words, 'Mrs. Salmeron, you have dense breast tissue."

Tumors show up white in a mammogram. Dense breast tissue is also white.

Diagnosing Salmeron's tumor was like finding a snowflake in a snow storm.

In fact, according to the American Medical Association, mammograms might miss up to 40 percent of tumors hidden in dense breast tissue.

The knowledge turned Salmeron's anger into action.

"Maybe I'm going to die from this, but I will try everything in my power to change the standard of care," Salmeron said. "Then we need to change the status quo. Because as women, it is important for us to know."

After months of lobbying state legislators, this summer Texas passed Bill 2102,know as Henda's Law.

Beginning Jan. 1, all licensed mammogram facilities will have to send home a note informing patients if they have dense breasts and advising them that they might benefit from additional screening.

Dr. Katherine Hall is the medical director of the breast center at Texas Health Dallas. She reads mammograms all day, and worries that Henda's Law will cause in increase in frightening false-positives. Mostly from women who demand extra screenings like sonograms and MRI's they might not be able to afford.

"It says that you could get it, but insurance companies are not going to pay for additional screening evaluation unless a patient is at risk for developing breast cancer," Hall said.

Henda Salmeron knows the bill that passed isn't perfect, but she hopes it will be a catalyst for change, not confusion.

"Had I known I had dense breast tissue, my treatment options would have been different, the pain and suffering that my family and myself would have gone through could have been different and it's unacceptable," Salmeron said. "Y'know what? Let's get the confusion and fear out of the discussion and let's start talking how to save women."

Salmeron's cancer was diagnosed at stage two. She's now cancer free, but still fighting for herself and other women.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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