Henda Salmeron discovered a 4-centimeter tumor in her breast despite multiple clear mammograms. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Henda Salmeron of Lakewood drove to Austin almost every week this past legislative session. And her work paid off. On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry signed into law the bill Salmeron started pushing in January.

“Henda’s Law” requires mammography clinics to notify patients about the risks of dense breast tissue.

Getting this law passed was a personal crusade for Salmeron, who was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over two years ago. Her cancer almost escaped detection because she has dense breast tissue.

“I had mammograms four years in a row, and every single one of them was normal,” she says. “Six months before I was diagnosed, I had a clear mammogram.”

It was only after Salmeron lost 20 pounds that she felt a lump in her breast. Her doctor told her it was probably nothing since her mammogram had been clear. But Salmeron pestered her doctor into sending her for a sonogram. It turned out she had a 4-centimeter tumor and stage-two breast cancer.

Read our story about her in the October 2009 Advocate.

How could all those mammograms miss a 4-centimeter tumor? Doctors told her it was because she has dense breast tissue. She learned that dense breast tissue can cause inaccurate mammograms 40 percent of the time. And that about half of all women have it.

“We all grew up thinking that a mammogram is foolproof, and that is not the case,” she says.

Salmeron, a real estate agent who is active in the Lakewood Neighborhood Association, had never heard of dense breast tissue before. So she knew she had to tell as many women about it as possible. So she compiled as much information as possible into a website, densebreasttissue.net. And then she got her state representative — first Allen Vaught and then his successor, Kenneth Sheets — to help her move her agenda through the state house.

She spent weeks in Austin testifying before committees and “talking to everyone and their brother who would listen” about the bill.

The original bill also called for insurance providers to cover alternative screenings, such as sonograms, but lawmakers knew Perry would veto any bill containing such a mandate. So an amendment to the bill struck that part.

That gives Salmeron a reason to return to Austin in the 2013 legislative session, but her work is not done before then. She is working with women to get similar legislation passed in seven other states. And she is trying to get Texas lawmakers on board with sponsoring a bill at the federal level.

“All women should know the risks,” Salmeron says. “With Texas passing this law, I am really hoping it passes in other states.”

The law takes effect Sept. 1, and all of the state’s clinics must be in compliance by Jan. 1.

Here is the exact verbiage it requires:

If your mammogram demonstrates that you have dense breast tissue, which could hide abnormalities, and you have other risk factors for breast cancer that have been identified, you might benefit from supplemental screening tests that may be suggested by your ordering physician. Dense breast tissue, in and of itself, is a relatively common condition. Therefore, this information is not provided to cause undue concern, but rather to raise your awareness and to promote discussion with your physician regarding the presence of other risk factors, in addition to dense breast tissue. A report of your mammography results will be sent to you and your physician. You should contact your physician if you have any questions or concerns regarding this report.

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