Women of all ages should be concerned about breast cancer. Many factors play roles in the likelihood of developing this type of cancer, and genetic predisposition and environmental factors can both be reasons for the development. Women over the age of 40 should be getting yearly mammograms. During the results, some women have been told that they have dense breasts, so what does this mean, and do dense breasts put you at a higher risk of breast cancer?
Most people do not understand the composition of the breast. Women’s breasts are made of mammary glands. These glands hold the milk-producing cells for future production. Along with these glands is connective tissue, some of which is fatty, and that determines the shape of the breast if the patient has not had Top Surgery. There are a number of factors that cause a female to have dense breasts, such as:
· Age. As a woman ages, the breast tissue becomes fattier, so younger women commonly have more dense breasts.
· Menopause. When hormone therapy is given to relieve menopause symptoms, it can cause breast tissue to become dense.
· Body Mass. Women with a small BMI tend to have dense tissue versus women who are overweight or obese.
· Genetics. Dense breasts can also be genetic. If a woman’s mother has dense breast tissue, then her daughter is likely to have it as well.
Determining Breast Density
A mammogram is the only way to determine the density of the breast. Radiologists use the comparison of dense to fatty tissue in the image to assign a level of breast density. Thedensity levels are as follows:
· Level A. This level is almost completely fatty breast tissue
· Level B. Scattered levels of density with the majority being nonsense
· Level C. The majority of breast tissue is dense with areas of nonsense tissue
· Level D. Nearly all of the tissue is dense
The Risk for Breast Cancer
Numerous studies show that women who have very dense breast tissue cancer face risk increases of four to six times over women with fatty tissue breasts. The exact reason for this increase is unknown, but it has been shown that cancer cells develop in the dense tissue of breasts. It has also been determined that, at times, cancer goes undetected in dense breasts because this type of tissue can mask potential cancer. Because of this, additional testing beyond the mammogram may be needed on a woman with dense breasts. The supplementary testing can consist of:
· 3D Mammograms
· Breast Ultrasound
· Molecular Breast Imaging
There are pros and cons to each type of additional testing. Both the molecular and 3D mammogram will expose the patient to additional radiation, but both are also less likely to find areas of concern that are not cancer. Neither the MRI nor ultrasound will have radiation exposure, but they may be expensive and not covered by a woman’s health insurance.
All women should take the prevention and early detection of breast cancer very seriously. If it is determined that you have dense breast tissue, having a conversation with your doctor about additional testing is encouraged. Dense breast tissue does not definitively equate to breast cancer, but there could be a chance, so being vigilant about monitoring it is important.