Breast Density FAQ: What Does It Mean To Have Dense Breasts?

mammographyIn the next year, 22 out of every 10,000 women between the ages of 50 and 54 will be diagnosed with breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Mammography can help detect breast cancer, but for women with dense breasts, additional screening may be necessary. Not only is dense breast tissue a risk factor for breast cancer, but dense breasts also present certain challenges to imaging specialists.

The Mayo Clinic reports that about 40% of women have dense tissue, but how do you know if you are one of them? In today’s post, we’ll answer some common questions about this risk factor.

How can I tell if I have dense breast tissue?

The density of your breasts doesn’t refer to how your breasts feel, and you won’t be able to tell if you have dense breasts by feel alone. Your breast density refers to how much fatty tissue you have in your breasts compared to fibrous and connective tissue.

A radiologist determines the density of your breasts by examining your tissue on a mammogram. Radiologists recognize four levels of breast density, which are categorized by letters A, B, C, and D. Breasts that are primarily fatty are category A breasts, while extremely dense breasts with lots of tissue are Category D. If your mammogram reveals category C or D breasts, then you have dense breasts (you can see pictures of these dense breast categories here).

How does dense breast tissue affect mammogram results?

According to the American Medical Association, mammograms help radiologists detect 98% of cancer in women with fatty breast tissue. However, because both breast cancer and dense, glandular tissue appear white on your mammogram, small masses can be harder to detect. Thus, mammography alone was only able to detect 48% of cancer in women with dense breast tissue.

In some cases, it can be nearly impossible to differentiate the dense breast tissue from cancer on the screen. By undergoing a mammogram and a breast ultrasound, women with dense breasts can receive a more accurate breast cancer screening. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your breast density after you’ve received the results of your mammogram.

What do I do if I have dense breasts?

If you have dense breasts, then your medical provider may recommend additional imaging tests. 3D mammography is able to find more (still not all) breast cancers in women with dense breasts. Fortunately, Carolina Breast Imaging Specialists uses 3D mammography for all patients. If you go elsewhere, please be sure to insist on 3D.  Even though 3D mammography finds more cancers in dense tissue, there are still many small cancers that cannot be detected on mammography alone. Carolina Breast Imaging Specialists recommends Automated Whole Breast Screening Ultrasounds for all women with dense tissue. These ultrasounds can be done at the same time as your annual mammogram. CBIS is the only provider of 3D automated breast ultrasound in Eastern NC.

Where can I go for mammograms, 3D mammography, and breast ultrasounds?

ALL CBIS offices use 3D mammography for all patients. 3D screening ultrasound is offered at the Greenville and Goldsboro locations.

Are you ready to schedule your annual mammogram? To learn more about our screening services or to make an appointment, contact Carolina Breast Imaging Specialists today.