If your ObGyn practices are anything like ours, every time there is news coverage of a study regarding mammography or about efforts to pass a breast density inform law, your phone rings with patient calls. In fact, every density inform law enacted in the United States, except for in Illinois, directs patients to their referring provider—generally their ObGyn—to discuss the screening and risk implications of dense breast tissue.
The steady increased awareness of breast density means that we, as ObGyns and other primary care providers (PCPs), have additional responsibilities in managing the breast health of our patients. This includes guiding discussions with patients about what breast density means and whether supplemental screening beyond mammography might be beneficial.
As members of the Medical Advisory Board for DenseBreast-info.org (an online educational resource dedicated to providing breast density information to patients and health care professionals), we are aware of the growing body of evidence demonstrating improved detection of early breast cancer using supplemental screening in dense breasts. However, we know that there is confusion among clinicians about how and when to facilitate tailored screening for women with dense breasts or other breast cancer risk factors. Here we answer 6 questions focusing on how to navigate patient discussions around the topic and the best way to collaborate with radiologists to improve breast care for patients.
Play an active role
1. What role should ObGyns and PCPs play in women’s breast health?
Elizabeth Etkin-Kramer, MD: I am a firm believer that ObGyns and all women’s health providers should be able to assess their patients’ risk of breast cancer and explain the process for managing this risk with their patients. This explanation includes the clinical implications of breast density and when supplemental screening should be employed. It is also important for providers to know when to offer genetic testing and when a patient’s personal or family history indicates supplemental screening with breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
DaCarla M. Albright, MD: I absolutely agree that PCPs, ObGyns, and family practitioners should spend the time to be educated about breast density and supplemental screening options. While the exact role providers play in managing patients’ breast health may vary depending on the practice type or location, the need for knowledge and comfort when talking with patients to help them make informed decisions is critical. Breast health and screening, including the importance of breast density, happen to be a particular interest of mine. I have participated in educational webinars, invited lectures, and breast cancer awareness media events on this topic in the past.
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