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Unsure if you have dense breasts? Why does it matter?

Sansum Clinic Breast Care Navigator, Tammy Stockero, RN, BSN, OCN answers questions about breast density and how it may affect your mammogram reading.

 

Breast Density

Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Your breasts are considered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat. Density may decrease with age, but there is little, if any, change in most women.

How to Know if You Have Dense Breasts

Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads your mammogram. There are four categories of mammographic density: almost entirely fatty breasts, scattered areas of fibroglandular density in breasts, heterogeneously dense breasts and extremely dense breasts. The radiologist assigns each mammogram to one of the categories. Your doctor should be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on where you fall on the density scale.

Breast Density in the United States

  • 10% of women have almost entirely fatty breasts.
  • 10% have extremely dense breasts.
  • 80% are classified into one of two middle categories dense breasts and mammograms A mammogram is the only medical imaging screening test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if you have dense breast tissue.

Other Imaging Tests for Dense Breasts

In breasts that are dense, cancer can be hard to see on a mammogram. Studies have shown that ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find breast cancers that can’t be seen on a mammogram. However, both MRI and ultrasound show more findings that are not cancer, which can result in added testing and unnecessary biopsies. Also, the cost of ultrasound and MRI may not be covered by insurance.

Next Steps

If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor. Together, you can decide which, if any, additional screening exams are right for you.

If your breasts are not dense, other factors may still place you at increased risk for breast cancer – including a family history of the disease, previous chest radiation treatment for cancer and previous breast biopsies that show you are high risk. Talk to your doctor and discuss your history.

Even if you are at low risk, and have entirely fatty breasts, you should still get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

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