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Breast Density: What it is. Why it matters.

May 31, 2022
Breast Density: What it is. Why it matters.
Dense breast tissue is linked to an increase in the risk of developing breast cancer

Breast Density — What does it mean?

Breasts are made of fat and glandular breast tissue. Some women have more fat than glandular breast tissue while others have more glandular tissue than fat. When there is more glandular tissue, the breast is considered dense. On a mammogram, dense tissue appears white. Since masses of lumps also appear white on a mammogram, a suspicious lump may be masked by the dense breast tissue.

Dense breast tissue is also linked with an increase in the risk of developing breast cancer. Women with extremely dense breast tissue have a 4-6 times greater risk of developing breast cancer than women with fatty breasts.

Do I have dense breasts?

The radiologist who reads your mammogram will determine your breast density based on the four-level

scale above. Your doctor should be able to tell you where you fall on the breast density scale. Over one-third of women age 50 and older and over half of those under age 50 have dense breasts (categorized as heterogeneously dense or extremely dense).

I have dense breasts. Now what?

A mammogram can detect cancer even if you have dense breasts. However, in some cases, a different

type of mammogram may be considered.

Mammograms remain the gold standard for all women, regardless of breast density. However, some women may consider other types of imaging in addition to mammography. Ask your doctor which option is best for you.

Additional Breast Exam Options

3D Mammography (Digital Breast Tomosynthesis)

Also called “tomo,” this innovative technology creates multiple thin images of the breast. These “slices”

make overlapping normal tissues less likely to hide cancers, allowing radiologists to view breast structures more clearly and characterize findings more accurately.

Invision Sally Jobe is proud to have pioneered this powerful imaging technique in Colorado.

Screening Breast Ultrasound

Ultrasound involves using sound waves to see through tissues and displays lesions differently than mammography. It is often performed to examine specific areas of the breast when there is a concern, such as pain or a lump.

Screening breast ultrasound (SBU) is intended to scan the entire breast, not just specific regions, which is why it is useful as a whole breast screening—versus diagnostic—tool.

Mammography can mask small cancers due to the dense tissue. SBU provides radiologists the ability to look through the dense tissue in order to find small invasive cancers.

Breast MRI Screening

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is very sensitive to changes in tissue. As a result, MRI can find cancers that mammograms can miss. Breast MRI screening is typically recommended for women who have additional risk factors for breast cancer, such as a family history of the disease or a specific mutation in genes such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. Your doctor or a specialist, like a genetic counselor, can

review your risk factors in detail to determine if breast MRI screening might be appropriate for you.

How do I decide which option is best for me?

Talk with your physician about your breast density and your desire to learn more about additional options to detect breast cancer early, if not prevent it altogether. You may also contact us to ask questions via phone or to schedule a visit with our board-certified genetic counselors, who can provide you with a detailed breast cancer risk assessment.