Health Check: RI law educates women about breast density

Sen. Jamie Doyle and Ann Kelley read the new law.

Ann Kelley's 59th birthday on Thursday was extra special, spending it at the State House with her son, Andrew.

She got to see for herself what she had worked so hard for: Rhode Island's new Dense Breast Notification and Education Act, being signed into law by Gov. Lincoln Chafee.

Kelley's journey began six years ago.

"I found out that I had a mammogram report that said calcifications appear benign. I got what they call a happy-gram, everything's fine. The doctor got that report, but never said a word to me whatsoever. Never mentioned the risk of having breast density," Kelley said.

Then, last year.

"I felt a lump on July 4," Kelley said. "The doctor felt the lump and when we walked across the hall to mammogram there was absolutely nothing showing on the mammogram."

But Kelley had late stage invasive breast cancer. The cancer couldn't be seen because of her breast density.

Sad and confused, she did her research. And what she found out made her angry.

"One in six women in Rhode Island will get breast cancer. Ninety percent of the women do not know their breast density. Mammogram only picks up 50 percent of tumors in dense breasts, which means that if you have dense breasts it's missing every other tumor. That's a very scary fact," Kelley said.

Kelley approached state Sen. Jamie Doyle II.

"I certainly was educated because I knew nothing about this issue," said Doyle, D-Pawtucket. "We took the legislation and we absolutely ran with it."

Kelley explained what the law does.

"Women will get the same mammogram report that the doctor gets, and on this mammogram report it will state if they have dense breasts," Kelley said.

That's about 40 percent of women. Kelley has gone through chemo, surgery and radiation. And now she is on medication she will probably take for life. And that's what makes this new law all the more satisfying.

"Just knowing that I'm not going through this for nothing. Other women will benefit because I went through this," Kelley said.

But it's not over. Kelley is pushing to pass a law that would require health insurance companies to pay for alternative diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound, for women who have dense breasts.

Connecticut has such a law in place.