The connection between dense breast tissue and cancer detection
Prevention and early detection are key when it comes to treating breast cancer. That’s why some states are taking steps to inform women if they have dense breast tissue, which can make it difficult to spot tumors on a mammogram.
Minnesota implemented this legislation last month joining several other states including Arizona and California. According to the law, if dense breast tissue is discovered during a mammogram, a statement with these findings must be mailed to women along with their mammogram results.
“On a mammogram, fatty tissue shows up in black. Dense breast tissue appears in white – which is the same color tumors appear,” says Dr. Josie Kim, a radiologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “This makes it easier for the cancer to hide.”
As women age, their tissue typically tends to become less dense, but some women continue to have dense breasts regardless of their age. Once a woman is aware that she has dense breast tissue, she should speak with her physician about using a different breast cancer screening method, Dr. Kim recommends.
Alternatives to digital mammography include:
- Whole breast screening ultrasound: Sound waves develop a picture of the breast. The density of the tissue does not impact the image that is created.
- Digital breast tomosynthesis: X-rays create a 3-dimensional picture of the breast, making it easier to spot a tumor.
- Breast MRI: Magnets and radiowaves create a picture of the breast. Breast MRIs are used specifically for women who are at high risk for developing breast cancer.
Dr. Kim also recommends women be proactive about their health by having a thorough breast exam performed by a gynecologist or internist and performing a monthly self-exam. It is important for women to be able to notice if something feels different than normal when performing a self-exam. This can only happen if they “know their own breasts,” Dr. Kim says.
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