About a dozen women dressed in pink shirts feel like they face two deadlines as they walked the steps of the Iowa Statehouse Tuesday. One is very personal. One is political. First, the political: this week marks lawmakers’ first self-designed “funnel week”, which means most bills have to pass through at least one legislative committee by week’s end to have a realistic chance of becoming law this session.
The personal part of this fight involves a battle with cancer. The women call themselves the Army of Pink. They are pushing lawmakers to pass a bill that would require doctors to give women their breast density when they send out their mammogram results.
Bridget Pargulski, a Johnston homemaker, who battles Stage 3 breast cancer, helped to lead the effort. She said, “One group of women, 60% of us, mammographies do a great job of finding cancer and it has saved thousands of lives. The other group of us, 40% mammography does not do a good job at all.”
Pargulski said doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told her she likely had cancer for five years, yet her past four mammograms detected no presence of a tumor. Pargulski believes that is because she has dense breast tissue, which makes detecting tumors in a routine mammogram more difficult.
Representative Helen Miller, a Fort Dodge Democrat, joined the women in a news conference. Miller said her family’s history makes her a strong supporter of the women’s efforts. She said, “I’m one of those women who had dense breasts, who’s had two aunts who’ve passed away from cancer. I have two sisters who are cancer survivors. My sister constantly tells me..she just had a birthday last week and she’s always…’well, I made another one, and Helen, I want you to know that it’s not a matter of if, but when.”
But the Iowa Medical Society opposes the group’s efforts to make doctors notify patients of their brest density. Dr. Marygrace Elson, who is a member of the Iowa Medical Board of Directors and a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist at UI Hospitals and Clinics, released this statement:
“There is no consensus within the scientific community on the relationship between breast density and cancer risk, no uniform method for assessing breast density and no clinical guidelines recommending additional patient screenings solely based on high breast density. The notification language mandated in this legislation…holds the potential to frighten women receiving the report of high breast density into seeking additional, higher-level screenings which are not medically necessary. In other words, the science just isn’t there to support what’s in this bill.”
As of Tuesday evening, the bill had not passed a house committee.