Health risks of dense breast tissue

Health risks of dense breast tissue

Did you know that breast tissue can differ from person to person? And those differences may hide abnormalities and create the need for additional screenings to ensure your breast health, experts say.

What is dense breast tissue?
According to the American College of Radiology, breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular and fatty tissue. Breasts are considered dense if there are a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat.  Women with greater than 50 percent density are considered to have dense breast tissue. The density may decrease with age, but experts say there is little, if any, change in most women.

How do I find out if I have dense breasts?
A mammogram screening helps radiologists determine your breast density. But even though mammograms are considered the most effective tool for detecting cancer in its earliest stages, dense breasts can make it more difficult to spot abnormalities.

Dr. Kevin Kirshenbaum, diagnostic radiologist on staff at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill., says sometimes patients with dense breast tissue may need additional testing along with their annual mammogram.

“The most recent focus on breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer, and the apparent rise of breast cancer incidence in a younger population brings into focus the option of having an additional screening test, namely a whole breast screening ultrasound,” Dr.  Kirshenbaum says.

Dr. Kirshenbaum explains that a screening using an ultrasound in patients with dense breasts allows some cancers to be seen where mammography may not.

“Another benefit is that there is no radiation risk with ultrasound, using similar technology as is used for maternal/fetal ultrasounds that are so commonly used,” he says.

If your mammogram shows you have dense breasts, Dr. Kirshenbaum recommends you talk to your physician about the best options for screening.

“Together, you can decide if any additional screening exams are right for you,” he says. “Taking preventive steps to ensure you are healthy is always the right thing to do.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends women get regular clinical breast exams at least every three years starting at age 20, in addition to  monthly self-breast exams. The ACS also recommends annual screening mammograms starting at age 40.

“Early detection of breast cancer is vital but if you have dense breast tissue, we want to be even more thorough in our examinations and vigilant with our testing,” Dr. Kirshenbaum says.

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  1. Really? Breast tissue density remains the same over time. Since when? What experts say that. Breast tissue density in younger patients is incredibly high making MMGs essentially unhelpful. MMGs become much more helpful as patients age precisely because the dense breast tissue is replaced by fatty tissue which allows better penetration of xrays and therefore better xrays.

  2. Glennda Drescher October 16, 2013 at 11:25 am · Reply

    I understand your statement and it is quite correct as far as it goes. The reason they do not recommend mammograms in younger women in so many cases is because of the increased density and possibility of false positives. That is a risk as is the increase in radiation. Having agreed on this I would tell you that I am a 59 year old woman and while the density of my breasts has decreased I still require bi annual sonograms because of the density of my breast tissue. I would also mention that my daughter is adopted and does not have her medical history and has extremely dense breasts. I would like to see her have annual mammograms to assist them in seeing if the there is any change in the density of her breasts and hopefully catch a cancer earlier than if she waited until she was 40 to begin her screenings. I have had a change in the density of my right breast and that has caused them to be more alert and to monitor my breasts more frequently for cancerous conditions.

  3. I just had my mammogram for the year, and I do have dense breast tissue. I am in my mid 50’s, so my doctor suggested I get an ultra sound next year instead of a mammogram. I have had chronic benign cystic mastitis since I was a teenager, and I’ve never had cancer or a lump that had to be biopsied. No one in my family has ever had breast cancer. I am taking no chances – I will get the ultra sound next year.

  4. Dense Breast gal here and over 55. My mother has had BC twice, a different form of BC in each breast. She is morbidly obese so I don’t count her cancers as a risk. The woman lives on insulin and sits around all day. I believe hers was self-inflicted.

    I have only had 4 mammos in my life, but I have had lots of ultra sounds, thermo images, and I go to only specialized centers who have digital equipment. Best advice a surgeon told me was to keep the weight down, exercise, know about pesticides in my produce, don’t eat many milk products, watch personal hygiene product chemicals, and let my breasts have some freedom to do their internal cleaning. Dense Breast Tissue puts me at higher risk for sure, so I need to pay attention. A mammo every freak’in year is a lot of radiation.

  5. If ultrasound can see what x-ray cannot & it does not add to the health risk (no radiation) then why isn’t ultrasound the standard diagnostic tool?

    • A breast ultrasound costs about $100 more than a mammogram. Also– and possibly more importantly– the American Cancer Society, which is funded largely by the corporations that make mammography equipment– recommends annual mammograms but NOT ultrasound. ACS cares little about risk. It is just as centered on profit-making as any company. The only difference is that it has no shareholders or stock, but the officers are getting rich quick. The greed at ACS is truly appalling.

      • I have often wondered this myself, Wes, for a long time now! Thank you for putting it out there. And, thank you, Joseph, for your enlightening comment as well. WOW. Makes sense!

  6. I am 45 and the sonogram caught my stage 1 breast cancer that the mammogram did not catch. I have dense breasts. Thank goodness for the sonogram. After surgery and radiation, I am doing well and have a very good prognosis.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

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