Breasts are composed of a variety of tissues, but the tissue doctors refer to as dense is very common. In fact, 40-47 percent of women who are between the ages of 40 and 74 have what is considered dense breast tissue.
Dense breast tissue isn’t a disease, but it is an independent risk factor for breast cancer, one that can increase risk for breast cancer between 1.5-2.5 percent. That’s according to Josie Alpers, MD, a mammography and radiology specialist with the Avera Medical Group Radiology.
Here are some facts about dense breast tissue:
1) All breasts are composed of fatty tissue, milk ducts and dense tissue. Women who are younger and thinner tend to have more dense tissue in their breasts.
2) Dense breast tissue is not noticeable to touch. It is only visible in mammograms and can “hide” tumors due to the similarity in appearance in these scans. Physicians prefer 3-D tomosynthesis mammography because it often provides a clearer image of the breast and can help physicians detect cancer in dense tissue.
3) Dense tissue can make it harder to find a tumor, but the American College of Radiology does not recommend additional testing for women who have dense breasts if they are in the population considered average risk. Contrast-enhanced spectral mammography, or CESM, can help physicians and patients who need additional imaging. CESM is safe, quick and less expensive than an MRI. Ultrasounds are reserved for focal symptoms or mammographic abnormalities.
4) Dense tissue typically decreases as women age, gain weight or reach menopause. While it would seem this change is good, surprisingly, each of these changes brings with it a potential risk increase for breast cancer. Remember, dense tissue isn’t a disease, but it can make detection more difficult.
5) Hormonal changes due to menopause or hormone therapies can lead to an increase in dense tissue in the breast. Don’t forget women who are considered in the population that has average risk only need mammograms on a regular basis.
Ask your physician or advance practice provider any questions you might have about dense breast tissue.