He The Food and Drug Administration published new standards on Thursday that could help more women detect breast cancer earlier.

The new rules will require mammography providers across the country to notify women if they have dense breast tissue and advise them to see a doctor if they need further testing.

“Today’s action represents the agency’s broader commitment to supporting innovation to prevent, detect and treat cancer,” Dr. Hilary Marston, the FDA’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Dr. Anne Hoyt, co-medical director of breast imaging at the University of California, Los Angeles, called it «a step in the right direction.»

«Sometimes, in women who have breast cancers present, those breast cancers don’t show up on the mammogram because they’re hidden by breast density,» she said.

The FDA’s action is important because breast cancer risk is a real concern for many patients, said Dr. Harold Burstein, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

«Identification of dense breast tissue may be a marker of a slightly increased risk of getting breast cancer, and additional breast imaging may be needed,» said Burstein, who likened the challenge of reading mammograms to «looking through of a frosted glass».

Mammography providers will need to implement the new standards within 18 months, according to the agency.

More than 297,700 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, and some 43,700 will die from the disease, according to American Cancer Society estimates.

Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The denser your breasts, the higher your risk.

The condition is very common: About half of women over the age of 40 have dense breasts, according to CDC statistics. Dense breasts have more tissue and fat, so reading your mammograms is more difficult and cancers may go undetected.

The only way to know if you have dense breasts is with a mammogram, which doctors generally recommend every one or two years for women from the age of 40 or 50. Women with dense breasts are advised to also have an ultrasound.

In 2019, the The FDA first proposed new rules for breast cancer screening that would require health care providers to give women more information about the risks associated with dense breasts. In October, the agency said it was optimistic that the final rule would be published in early 2023.

Thirty-eight states already require providers to give women information about breast density after a mammogram, but not all require providers to notify a woman if she herself has dense breasts.

The new FDA rules released Thursday essentially set a minimum amount of information that mammography providers will be required to report to women.

«It provides a uniform guide,» Burstein said, because «it spans the entire country.»

The FDA’s decision is expected to raise awareness of the condition and encourage more women to get a mammogram to find out if they are at risk, he said.

“Just because you have dense breast tissue doesn’t mean you have breast cancer, and it doesn’t mean you’re going to get breast cancer,” she said. «But what it could mean is that you need additional images.»

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