What to Know About Dense Breasts and Your Mammograms
If you see a note at the bottom of your mammogram report that indicates higher-than-normal breast density, you may feel concerned. Many women do when they receive such news. High breast density is associated with an increased risk for breast cancer. So, what is a woman to do? We’ll discuss that here.
What is Breast Density?
Breasts have multiple aspects, including:
- Fatty tissue, which resembles fat in other areas of the body
- Fibrous connective tissue, which helps shape the breasts.
- Ducts, the tubes that transport milk to the nipple
- Lobules, which produce milk
Usually, breasts have more inactive tissues than active ones. In the case of dense breasts, there is less fat and more ducts and lobules present. Dense breasts do not look any different. The only way to identify density is through mammography. Screening not only finds density but measures it. One is the least amount of breast density. A measurement of 3 or 4 indicates high density. The density of breast tissue can change over time, so, a woman may receive this classification at any time in her life.
How much does high breast density affect cancer risk?
Data varies to some degree. One study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute estimated that women with high breast density were three times more likely to develop breast cancer over 15 years than those with breast density of 10% or less. In addition to raising concerns about breast cancer risk, breast density is also challenging to mammography itself. Research continues to explore ways to manage these risks, and innovative technology shows promise.
Women with higher breast density are encouraged to talk to their doctor. However, they should also research to learn more about this condition and the latest recommendations for managing it. In one recent study, discussed in Harvard Women’s Health Watch, researchers discovered that digital breast tomosynthesis, better known as 3D mammography, performed better at detecting cancers in women with dense breast tissue. This technology has existed since 2011 after gaining FDA-approval. It works by assembling a comprehensive 3-dimensional reflection from a series of images of the breasts. In the study, 3D technology discovered 2.27 more cancers than digital mammography for every 1,000 exams of women with dense breasts.