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What is Breast Density & Why is it Important?

What is Breast Density & Why is it Important?

Breast density measures the amount of fatty, glandular and fibrous tissue in the breast. A dense breast consists of more glandular and fibrous tissue than fat. It is not a measure of breast firmness; therefore, a mammogram is the only way to determine your density. Dense tissue is relatively common and found in more than forty percent (40%) of women.

Why is breast density important?

The presence of dense tissue may make it more difficult to detect abnormalities in the breast and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Dense tissue appears white on a mammogram. Since lumps, cancerous and non-cancerous, also appear white, they can be obscured on the mammogram.

How do I find out if I have dense breasts?

The Government now requires all mammography providers to inform women of their breast density level as interpreted on their mammogram. A mammogram is the only tool that can determine breast density. The radiologist reading your mammogram will determine your density based on a 4-level scale approved by the American College of Radiology. This information will be included in the mammography report sent to you and your physician. Breast density will be assessed each year and may vary based on radiologist interpretation, as well as naturally occurring changes in breast tissue.

Screening for women with dense breast tissue (heterogeneously or extremely dense)

Women with dense breast tissue should still get an annual mammogram. Mammograms remain the only medical imaging test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor. Together you can decide if additional screening exams can benefit you. Radiology Affiliates Imaging offers the following services in addition to mammograms:

  • Tomosynthesis (also known as 3D mammography), a digital mammogram that creates multiple images or "slices" through the breast tissue, providing better visualization of breast abnormalities, particularly for women with dense breasts.

  • Breast Ultrasound, which studies show can improve breast cancer detection in women with dense breasts if used in conjunction with mammography.

Screening for women without dense breast tissue (fatty or scattered fibroglandular)

Women without dense breast tissue should still get an annual mammogram. This breast tissue type is easier to evaluate for breast cancer and is not considered an independent risk factor. Mammograms are most effective at detecting breast cancer in women that have mostly fatty breast tissue. Therefore, we recommend annual mammograms along with monthly self-breast exams and yearly breast exams by your physician.

American Cancer Society Recommendations for Early Breast Cancer Detection:

  • All women with no symptoms of breast cancer should have a screening mammogram every year starting at 40.
  • Women should perform self-breast exams monthly starting in their 20's.
  • Women in their 20's and 30's should have a clinical breast exam as part of their regular health exam, every 3 years.
  • Women at high risk should get an MRI and a mammogram every year.
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