What is breast density?
Breast tissue is composed of fibrous, glandular and fatty tissue. Your breasts are considered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue, but not much fatty tissue.
How do I know if I have dense breasts?
It is not possible to determine breast density by feeling. The radiologist who reads your mammogram will assign one of the four breast density categories (see photos below) based on the images. Your provider can then discuss your options with you.
Why does breast density matter?
Dense breast tissue is completely normal. However, it may moderately increase your chance of developing breast cancer and can make it more difficult to find early-stage cancers on mammograms.
What other tests should I consider?
In breasts that are dense, cancer can be hard to see on a mammogram. Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), also called 3-D mammography, provides images of the breast in "slices" from many different angles making some abnormalities easier to see. DBT increases the number of cancers seen without additional testing. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find cancers that cannot be seen on a mammogram. However, MRI may show findings that are not cancer, which can result in additional testing.
What if I don't have dense breasts?
If your breasts are not dense, other factors may still place you at an increased risk for breast cancer including: family history, previous radiation to the chest for treatment of cancer and previous breast biopsies. Talk to your doctor and discuss your history.
Are there things I can do to prevent breast cancer?
Yes. Maintain a lean body weight (BMI 19-25), exercise regularly (five days per week, 30 minutes per day), don't smoke and if you do quit, limit alcohol intake to one drink or less per day, eat nutritious food, including five servings of non-starchy vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruit per day, avoid all processed and fast food, limit added sugar consumption to six teaspoons per day and avoid processed meats.
What should I do?
Starting at age 40, even if you have almost entirely fatty breast tissue, don't forget to schedule your annual mammogram. If you have dense breast tissue, talk to your health care provider to decide which, if any, additional screening exams are right for you.
To calculate your lifetime risk for breast cancer go to http://ibis.ikonopedia.com. If your score is greater than 20% ask your physician if a screening is necessary.
For more information on the breast cancer program at John Stoddard Cancer Center, click here.