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Dense Breast

A mammogram can determine if you have high breast density.

What is Breast Density?

Breast density is the term used to describe the tissues that make up the breast. Women with dense breasts have more fibrous connective and glandular tissue than fatty tissue. Breast density can change over a woman's lifespan; however, factors that can affect breast density include body mass index, age at first childbirth, and genetics. Regardless of the size or shape of the breasts, women with dense breast tissue have a four to five times greater chance of developing breast cancer.

Why is breast density a risk factor for breast cancer?

Doctors are now incorporating breast density to help assess an individual's breast cancer risk. One-third of all breast cancers are related to high breast density. Part of this could be due to the fact that dense breast tissue can make it difficult for a radiologist to see breast cancer on a mammogram. Whether benign or cancerous, lumps show up white on a mammogram; dense tissue also shows up white. In addition, research has shown that high breast density is associated with more aggressive tumor characteristics.

How do I know if I have dense breasts?

A mammogram can determine if you have high breast density. Many states (including Virginia) now require that you be informed if you have dense breasts in the letter with your mammogram results that is sent after your screening. Breast density does not correspond to breast consistency or "lumpiness" on physical exam.

What should I do if I have dense breasts?

Digital mammography has been found to be more accurate than film mammography for women with dense breasts. Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) can also improve cancer detection and reduce unnecessary call backs for extra pictures. Also, addition of breast ultrasound and/or MRI can improve cancer detection in women with dense breasts. Talk to your doctor about getting screened and if additional tests are right for you. With more research, individualized screening recommendations for breast cancer may replace current ones. Call the Novant Health UVA Breast Care Center for more information or to schedule a screening mammogram.