Soquel Resident and State Senator Fight To Improve Breast Cancer Screening

Amy Colton faces adversity with information — as much of it as she can get. When the Soquel resident and registered nurse was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, she learned everything she could about breast cancer.

Now she and local State Sen. Joe Simitian are working together to help other women get information they need.

“I started doing a lot of research about breast cancer. That was my coping mechanism,” said Colton. “I’m one of those people who just need to get into it and learn everything I can about it.”
As Colton dug deeper into her research she came across information on dense breast tissue.

Dense breast tissue seemed like it could explain something bothering Colton; how her yearly mammograms failed to identify her cancer in its early stage. According to Colton, dense breast tissue makes identifying tumors on a mammogram more difficult and also increases breast cancer risk.

“I started reading about this subject of breast density and it occurred to me that my story fit the scenario,” said Colton.

She recalled thinking, “No one has ever told me that I do [have dense tissue] but it sounds like that’s information that’s not routinely told to patients.”

She learned that mammography reports sent from radiologists to doctors include breast density information. Colton got her reports and every one sent to her doctor said Colton the x-ray showed dense breast tissue.

That Information indicating she was at greater risk for breast cancer and that mammography alone likely would be less likely to identity breast cancer was never given to her. She suspected that the decision not to tell her about her condition was standard practice.

“To think that here I have had a risk factor and I didn’t know about it,” Colton said. “I thought I was taking really good care of myself—I take my health very seriously and I follow all the doctors’ recommendations. I faithfully went for my mammogram every year and I had no idea that I had dense breast tissue and that it put me at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. And not only that but that the accuracy of the mammogram was incredibly decreased.”

Colton makes clear she is not advocating women skip getting a mammogram. She just wants all the information from the mammogram disclosed and additional screening carried out if needed.

A Winning Proposal

Colton became an advocate for better information, and her efforts to require disclosing breast density received a significant boost in March when Sen. Simitian selected Colton’s proposal to improve breast cancer screening as one of the winning entries in his annual “There Oughta Be a Law Contest.”

Simitian is sponsoring a bill, SB 173, which requires disclosing breast density and advising those with dense breast tissue of the benefit from further breast cancer screening. It would also mandate insurance cover the cost of the additional screening.

Colton’s submission was one of 462 proposals Simitian received from residents in his district and throughout the state. The bill’s potential positive impact drew Simitian to it, he said.

“This really should be a non-partisan effort. It has the potential to help women throughout the state and have an impact on women and their families’ lives,” explained Simitian.

Connecticut passed a similar law in 2009 and Simitian believes that may increase SB 173’s prospects for passing.

“It’s difficult to go first. Persuading colleagues [to support legislation] is easier if someone takes the first step,” Simitian said.

Colton’s role in getting this bill passed did not end when with Simitian selecting her submission.

“Amy will be a very effective advocate with her background as a breast cancer survivor and nurse. She has a compelling story,” said Simitian.

The next step comes during a State Senate Health Committee meeting sometime this April.

“It’s just the first step. Getting it passed is a whole other thing. But this is the start,” Colton said. “I want to see this through, I want to see it passed and I’m willing to do the hard work that it’s going to take.”