26 April 2016

A growing number of states have enacted so-called “dense breast” legislation – requirements that radiology facilities inform patients if they have dense breast tissue, which may limit the sensitivity of mammography.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association evaluated the dense breast legislation for 23 states who have these requirements. They evaluated the content, readability, and understandability of the dense breast notification. The authors found that the readability of these notices was at the high school level or above, and many notices had poor understandability. Also concerning was the fact that many notifications lacked concordance with the states’ average literacy.

Unless women (and their physicians) can make sense of the notifications, they are worthless. Research studies generally recommend that informed consents and study descriptions be presented to patients at a 6th-8th grade reading level, but these standards do not exist for other patient information.

It is important for patients to ask if there is anything about their medical test results or instructions that they do not understand.