Breast density is a term that is used by the medical profession and it refers to the amount of fat and tissue in the breast, and this can be seen in a mammogram screening. Dense breasts have more tissue than fat and younger women typically have breasts that are more dense. As we age, however, our breasts become less dense, and after menopause, the breast tissue of most women is mainly fat. The use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may cause women who take HRT to have higher breast density.
Breast Density and Breast Cancer Risk
You can find any number of articles on the Internet that take great pleasure in telling you that women who have denser breasts are at an increased risk for breast cancer, but ongoing research has been unable to prove why.
I believe that the biggest problem is that for women with dense breasts, catching any cancerous activity via mammography is a difficult thing to do. Dense breast tissue and cancer both appear as white or light grey on a mammogram, making it nearly impossible for a radiologist to detect cancer – they say it’s kind of like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Radiologists who are more proactive may provide density information to their patients, encouraging them to try other screening options like thermal imaging, ultrasound, or MRI. Some states in the USA are actually passing laws that make it mandatory for women to be notified they have dense breast tissue after getting a mammogram, which I believe is a good thing.
What I find mystifying is that simply because dense breasts are more difficult to screen, that should not create a higher risk of breast cancer for their owner and yet that seems to be what the research is telling us. According to www.cancer.gov: “It is not yet clear why breast density is related to a person’s risk of breast cancer, but there are currently studies aimed at finding a better method for assessing breast cancer risk using breast density.”
The latest bit of research I found comes to us via the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and is titled Benign Breast Disease, Mammographic Breast Density and the Risk of Breast Cancer which concludes that “Women with high breast density and proliferative benign breast disease are at very high risk for future breast cancer.”
If You Have Dense Breasts…
First of all, take a deep breath and don’t panic. Until technology catches up with this issue, just know that there are many things you can do to protect yourself against breast cancer. There’s no magic pill but take the time to learn what you can do – be proactive. I’ll help you.
In a recent review into breast cancer and lifestyle, the American Institute of Cancer Research estimated that at least 40% of breast cancer cases in the USA could be prevented if people made wiser lifestyle choices.
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