Dense breast tissue is common and normal, but it can make it more difficult for doctors to identify cancerous lesions. Below we will explain what dense breast tissue is, how it may interfere with a breast cancer diagnosis and ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
What is dense breast tissue?
Breast tissue consists of ducts, milk glands, and supportive connective tissue, which may be fatty (non-dense) or fibrous (dense). Breast tissue appears to be dense on a mammogram when it contains a lot of fibrous tissue rather than fat. The dense tissue appears as a solid white area, which is difficult to see through.
What causes dense breast tissue?
It is not known why some women have more dense breast tissue than others. What is known is that women are more likely to have dense breast tissue when the following are true:
- You are younger. Breast tissue generally becomes less dense as we age. However, some women’s breast tissue may be dense no matter their age.
- Your body mass index is lower. Women who are obese are less likely to have dense breast tissue than women who have less body fat.
- You are taking hormone therapy. Women taking hormone therapy for symptoms of menopause are more likely to have dense breasts.
Does breast density matter?
Yes, having dense breast tissue matters. It can increase the likelihood that breast cancer is undetected by a mammogram. In addition, it increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, but the reasons for this are unknown at this point.
What breast cancer screening tests are recommended?
In the U.S., a number of major medical organizations recommend that women with an average risk of breast cancer begin annual screenings at 40. Women with dense breasts are considered to have a higher than average risk of breast cancer.
While dense breast tissue does make it more difficult to interpret a mammogram, mammograms are still considered to be effective screening tools. Digital mammograms are more effective at finding cancer in dense breast tissue than older technologies because they save images as digital files and allow for more detailed analysis.
Sometimes when dense breast tissue is detected on a mammogram, additional imaging tests are recommended.
Are additional tests necessary?
Several additional tests could be performed if dense breast tissue prevents a good interpretation of a mammogram. These include a 3-D mammogram (breast tomosynthesis), a breast MRI, a breast ultrasound, or molecular breast imaging (MBI). Each test has its pros and cons that a woman should discuss with her doctor based on her own risk factors and preferences.
We provide 3-D mammogram, technology that uses low levels of radiation to produce high quality images. Our kind and skilled staff promote a healing environment to give our patients excellent health care. Follow us on Facebook. and/or Twitter. To schedule an appointment, call us toll-free at 833-MMC-CARE (833-662-2273).