Keep it simple

Confusing letters to patients about breast density may do more harm than good

(REUTERS/Eric Gaillard)

Notifications intended to better inform women about their mammogram results if they have dense breasts may be harming more women than they help in some U.S. states. Dense breasts, which have more fibrous and glandular tissue, are normal and common, but slightly increase the risk that a woman will have breast cancer, or that a cancer could be missed on a mammogram. As a result, patient advocates have pushed for laws requiring mammography providers tell women about breast density when they send out results. Connecticut became the first state to pass such a law in 2009 — since then, 24 states have followed suit.

But when researchers analyzed the language and content of notifications in 23 states, they found that presentation of information was not consistent, nor, in some cases, even comprehensible. While about 20 percent of the U.S. population reads below fifth-grade level, the language presented in breast density notifications was, on average, at or above high school level. For women with low levels of literacy, already less likely to get preventive screening, researchers said the letters could “increase anxiety and confusion.” It’s not as though the language has to be complicated: breast density notification letters from Alabama, for example, were easily understandable at seventh-grade literacy levels.

Read the full story at NPR.

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