Breast Density Program
What is Breast Density?
Breast tissue consists of fatty and fibroglandular elements. Women can have varying degrees of fat and fibroglandular tissue within their breasts. The more fibroglandular tissue that is in the breast, the denser the breast tissue is on mammography.
2010 Harris Interactive Poll revealed that 95% of women do not know their breast density.
How do you know if you have dense tissue?
Dense tissue is not something you can sense or feel on a breast exam. The density of breast tissue can only determined by mammography.
Why is breast density so important?
Having dense tissue on mammogram results in having more white on your mammogram. Unfortunately, suspicious findings on mammography are also white. This results in a masking effect in which a cancer is hidden within the tissue. The sensitivity of mammography in women with dense breast tissue is found to be only 65%. Whereas, the sensitivity of mammography in women with fatty breast tissue is found to be 98%
Additionally, just having dense breast tissue has been found to represent an independent risk factor for cancer. In fact, women with dense breast tissue have 4-6x the risk of developing breast cancer when compared to women with fatty breast tissue. Breast cancer recurrence is also 4 times more likely in women with dense breasts.
Cancers not identified by screening mammography are typically larger, have a higher grade and have a poor prognosis.
How common is dense breast tissue?
2/3 of premenopausal women and 1/4 of postmenopausal women have dense breast tissue. Typically, younger women have dense breast tissue and this slowly evolves into fatty tissue as women go through the aging process. However, 46% of women have dense breast tissue.
More than 1/3 of breast cancers are not mammographically visible in women with dense breasts
What can I do?
Be aware of your breast density. At NCWIC, we feel that all women should be aware of their breast density. During your private consultation, we take extra time to discuss your breast density and determine an individualized screening approach for you.
Studies have confirmed that the addition of hand-held screening ultrasound to mammography in women with dense breasts significantly increases breast cancer detection. The combined sensitivity of mammography and ultrasound is 97%. The majority of these cancers are early invasive cancers.
Further evaluation with screening breast ultrasound may be needed to optimize your screening regimen. At NCWIC, we routinely offer screening ultrasound to all our patients with dense breast tissue.