What You Should Know About Breast Density and Breast Cancer
By Breast Cancer Connect Staff January 26, 2016 604
Every woman is different. While this creates a beautifully diverse world of females, it also means that each woman must carefully monitor and manage her unique personal health issues. For example, women with dense breasts face a different path for breast cancer prevention and diagnosis. Here are answers to some important questions about breast density.
What does it mean to have dense breasts?
As Mayo Clinic explains, in addition to milk ducts and glands, breasts are made of connective and fatty tissues. Essentially, the more connective tissue there is, the denser a woman's breasts are. The ratio between fatty and non-fatty tissues determines a person's breast density, which is classified into one of four categories:
• Mostly fatty
• Scattered density
• Heterogeneously dense
• Extremely dense
Women with dense breasts may be more susceptible to breast cancer.
How do I know if I have dense breasts?
According to research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, approximately 43 percent of women between the ages of 40–74 have either heterogeneously or extremely dense breasts. It's a fairly common condition.
Dense breasts aren't something you can physically feel or see by looking in the mirror. You'd probably only know if you have a higher proportion of connective tissue to fatty tissue after receiving the results of your annual mammogram. Some women have a greater risk, according to Mayo Clinic. Women who are between the ages of 40–60 and are premenopausal or take hormone therapy for menopause have an increased chance of developing dense breasts. Genetics also play a role.
However, dense breasts may go unnoticed if you don't advocate for yourself. Ask your doctor about your breast density. Always review your annual mammogram results, which you can request from your doctor. Also, be sure to sign up for your medical facility's online communication platform if it has one so you can more easily inspect your medical record. If anything seems off, bring this up with your doctor.
How does breast density relate to breast cancer?
Women with dense breasts may be more susceptible to breast cancer. In fact, Breastcancer.org says the risk is six times greater those with this condition. However, if you know you have a lot of connective tissue in your breasts, you can work with your doctor to take additional steps for monitoring and prevention. That's why it's so important to know your breast density.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: connective tissue appears as white areas on a mammogram image and looks similar to tumors. That can make it more difficult for physicians to make an accurate breast cancer diagnosis in women with dense breasts.
What can I do if I have dense breasts?
Women with dense breasts may benefit from utilizing digital or diagnostic mammography. This advanced technology may enable the physician to better distinguish between connective tissue and tumors. Additionally, since dense breasts increase the risk of breast cancer, your doctor may recommend getting more frequent mammograms.