Research has shown that women with dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer. According to many experts, this is because dense breasts make it harder for regular film mammograms to detect potential cancers or precancerous conditions.
Cancer and Dense Breasts
What makes a breast dense?
A normal breast contains both fatty, or non-dense tissue, and glandular and connective, or dense tissue. Some healthy breasts, however, have less of the fatty, non-dense tissue and more of the denser, glandular and connective tissue than normal breasts. These breasts are considered "dense."
Because both healthy dense breast tissue and tumors appear as solid, white areas on x-ray film (while fatty or non-dense tissue is dark and easier to see through), a radiologist reading a regular mammography may find it hard to distinguish between the two conditions.
How do you get dense breasts?
Breast density can be inherited. If your mother or other female family members have dense breasts, you are likely to have them, too. Fluctuating estrogen levels (most common in premenopausal women) appear to be the culprit. In postmenopausal women, estrogen hormone therapy can increase breast density.
How can you find out if you have dense breasts?
Unless you live in a state that requires density information to be sent to patients, you will not automatically receive it with the form letter you get from the mammography center. Density information should be in the official report that your doctor receives, however, so ask your doctor for a copy. If it's not in the official report, have your doctor's office get the information from the radiologist who read your film.
You can optimize cancer screening for dense breasts
- Monthly breast self-exam
- Yearly breast exam by your doctor
- Yearly digital mammogram (instead of film mammogram)
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging of the breast)
- Ultrasound imaging (used to complement other screening tests)
Lifestyle choices can lower your breast cancer risk
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Limit alcohol intake
- Eat nutritious food
- Don't smoke