Women are encouraged to conduct monthly breast self-exams beginning at age 20 to help detect breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage. Women 40 years or older are recommended to have annual screening mammograms. Approximately 40 percent of women will be classified as having dense breast tissue, a risk factor for the development of breast cancer, determined through their mammogram.
“The female breast is made up of mammary glands and ducts, fatty tissue and non-fatty tissue. Women with dense breasts have less fatty tissue than non-fatty tissue,” says Dr. Alicia Daniels, a radiologist with Advanced Shore Imaging in Northfield. “This can mask breast cancer, so it’s important for women to know whether they have dense breasts, and what they should do about it.”
The occurrence of dense breast tissues varies by individual, but is completely normal. You may be wondering what that means for you if you suspect or have been made aware that you have dense breast tissue. Here are five things that women with dense breast tissue need to know.
- How do I know if I have dense breast tissue? Many women who have firmer breasts assume they have dense breast tissue. However, having dense breasts means you have more connective and glandular tissue than fatty tissue. This can only be determined by having a mammogram reviewed by a radiologist. Based on the mammogram results the radiologist will score your breast density as A, B, C or D. Denser breasts will have a ‘C’ ranking meaning the breast tissue is ‘heterogeneously dense’ or a ‘D’ ranking meaning the breast tissue is ‘extremely dense’. Based on your density score, you may be eligible for additional screening exams.
- What should I do if my mammogram results indicate I have dense breasts? You should have additional screening through a breast ultrasound. Advanced Shore Imaging in Northfield is one of the only imaging centers in South Jersey to offer the zero-radiation Automated Breast Volume Scan, an innovative ultrasound screening for women with dense breast tissue.
- Will a mammogram detect breast cancer if I have dense breast tissue? For women with dense breast tissue, annual mammograms are still the gold standard in breast cancer detection. However, traditional mammograms can miss approximately 10 percent of cancers present in women with dense breasts. Abnormalities within the breast tissue can often be misinterpreted as dense tissue, therefore making additional imaging by breast ultrasound highly desirable.
- Is my risk of developing breast cancer greater because I have dense breast tissue? According to the American College of Radiology, women with extremely dense breasts are four to six times more likely to develop cancer than women with fatty breasts, due in part to the masking of small masses and lesions by the dense tissue. However, age, family history and medical history are also additional risk factors for developing breast cancer.
- Will my health insurance provider cover this type of screening? The New Jersey Breast Density Law passed in 2014 mandates that mammography reports indicate the breast tissue density. The law also states that women whose mammograms reveal they have extremely or heterogeneously dense breast tissue are entitled to supplemental screenings. Be sure to check with your physician and insurance provider to determine coverage of necessary supplemental cancer screenings.
If you are a woman age 40 or older and you have not yet had your annual mammogram, speak with your physician and ask to have your mammogram performed at Advanced Shore Imaging in Northfield. You can make an appointment online at www.advancedshoreimaging.com or by calling 609-380-4175. If you would like to learn more about dense breast tissue and how you can be your own advocate, visit www.areyoudense.org.