How to Determine If You Have a Dense Breast

woman in pink bra checking breastHave you recently had a mammogram and were told that you have dense breast tissue? If so, you may have questions about what dense breast tissue is and what it means in terms of staying proactive about your breast health and how it affects your risk for getting breast cancer in the future.

What Does “Dense Breast Tissue” Mean?

Breast tissue is made of the following components:

  • Milk glands
  • Milk ducts
  • Fat
  • Connective and supportive tissue

Dense breast tissue is the connective and supporting tissue that appears white, or opaque, on a mammogram. This poses a challenge for radiologists who interpret mammogram results because potentially cancerous abnormalities also appear white and can be obscured by normal dense breast tissue. In comparison, fatty tissue appears black and transparent on a mammogram, making it easier for doctors to detect abnormalities.

How Can I Find Out If I Have Dense Breast Tissue?

Getting a mammogram can answer the question of whether or not you have dense breasts. Radiologists use the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS) to assign you to one of four levels of breast density. These include:

Level 1

Almost complete fatty breast tissue. This level is assigned to about one out of 10 women.

Level 2

Dispersed areas of fibroglandular density. This means there are pockets of breast density, but most of the tissue in fatty. Four out of 10 women fall into this category.

Level 3

Heterogeneously dense breast tissue. This means there are a few areas of non-dense tissue, but the majority is dense. Four out 10 women are in this group.

Level 4

Extremely dense breast tissue. This level means that almost all of the breast tissue is dense. One in 10 women are assigned to this group.

Those assigned to Level 3 or 4, or about half of all women, have dense breast tissue.

What Causes Dense Breasts?

Researchers aren’t sure why some women have dense breast tissue while others have mostly fatty breast tissue. However, you’re more likely to have dense breast tissue if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have a low body mass index (BMI)—thin women are more likely to have denser breasts than heavier or obese women
  • You are young—Younger women are prone to having dense breasts that become more fatty as they age
  • You take hormone replacement therapy—Women who use hormones to reduce the symptoms of menopause have denser breast tissue than those who do not take hormones

How Does Having Dense Breast Tissue Affect Me?

If you have dense breast tissue, radiologists may not be able to detect cancerous growths on a mammogram. Additionally, women with dense breast tissue face a higher overall chance of developing breast cancer although the reason is unknown. Luckily, there are other testing options available beyond mammograms to pursue if you and your doctor decide it’s necessary. These include:

  • Digital, 3D mammograms, which are more detailed than traditional 2D film mammograms
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Molecular breast imaging (MBI)

You and your doctor can discuss your family health history and personal risk factors to decide if additional testing is necessary for you.

Where Can I Get a Mammogram on Long Island?

PURE Mammography offers state-of-the-art 3D mammography services for women in Lake Grove and the surrounding communities. Our team of radiologists is highly trained in interpreting mammogram results in women with dense breast tissue in addition to other special circumstances. Contact us today to learn more about our facility or give us a call at 631-652-3424 for an appointment.

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