Breast health

How ObGyns can best work with radiologists to optimize screening for patients with dense breasts

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Consider how you order patients’ screening to reduce barriers and cost

4. How would you suggest reducing barriers when referring patients for supplemental screening, such as MRI for high-risk women or ultrasound for those with dense breasts? Would you prefer it if such screening could be performed without additional script/referral? How does insurance coverage factor in?

Dr. Etkin-Kramer: I would love for a screening mammogram with possible ultrasound, on one script, to be the norm. One of the centers that I work with accepts a script written this way. Further, when a patient receives screening at a freestanding facility as opposed to a hospital, the fee for the supplemental screening may be lower because they do not add on a facility fee.

Dr. Albright: We have an order in our electronic health record that allows for screening mammography but adds on diagnostic mammography/bilateral ultrasonography, if indicated by imaging. I am mostly ordering that option now for all of my screening patients; rarely have I had issues with insurance accepting that script. As for when ordering an MRI, I always try to ensure that I have done the patient’s personal risk assessment and included that lifetime breast cancer risk on the order. If the risk is 20% or higher, I typically do not have any insurance coverage issues. If I am ordering MRI as supplemental screening, I typically order the “Fast MRI” protocol that our center offers. This order incurs a $299 out-of-pocket cost for the patient. Any patient with heterogeneously or extremely dense breasts on mammography should have this option, but it requires patient education, discussion with the provider, and an additional cost. I definitely think that insurers need to consider covering supplemental screening, since breast density is reportable in a majority of the US states and will soon be the national standard.

Pearls for guiding patients

5. How do you discuss breast density and the need for supplemental screening with your patients?

Dr. Etkin-Kramer: I strongly feel that my patients need to know when a screening test has limited ability to do its job. This is the case with dense breasts. Visuals help; when discussing breast density, I like the images supplied by (FIGURE). I explain the two implications of dense tissue:

  • First, dense tissue makes it harder to visualize cancers in the breast—the denser the breasts, the less likely the radiologist can pick up a cancer, so mammographic sensitivity for extremely dense breasts can be as low as 25% to 50%.
  • Second, high breast density adds to the risk of developing breast cancer. I explain that supplemental screening will pick up additional cancers in women with dense breasts. For example, breast ultrasound will pick up about 2-3/1000 additional breast cancers per year and MRI or molecular breast imaging (MBI) will pick up much more, perhaps 10/1000.

MRI is more invasive than an ultrasound and uses gadolinium, and MBI has more radiation. Supplemental screening is not endorsed by ACOG’s most recent Committee Opinion from 2017; 4 however, patients may choose to have it done. This is where shared-decision making is important.

I strongly recommend that all women’s health care providers complete the CME course on the website. “ Breast Density: Why It Matters ” is a certified educational program for referring physicians that helps health care professionals learn about breast density, its associated risks, and how best to guide patients regarding breast cancer screening.

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