Breast Density 101

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By Whitney Morgan, MD, Radiologist

Breast density has become a hot topic in breast cancer screening due to growing awareness and the enactment of breast density notification laws in many states. Colorado recently became the 31st state to pass legislation, effective Oct. 1, 2017, requiring that a woman be notified if her mammogram shows dense breast tissue.
Why all the fuss about breast density? Below are some common FAQs.

What is breast density and how is it determined?

Breast density is determined on a mammogram. Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous, glandular and fatty tissue. Your breasts are considered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue in relation to the surrounding fatty tissue.

Why does breast density matter?

There are two reasons: Dense breast tissue can make it more difficult to see cancers on your mammogram AND having dense breast tissue increases your risk for developing breast cancer.

Is a mammogram still effective if I have dense breast tissue?

Yes! Although no test is perfect, mammography is still the only screening test proven to reduce breast cancer mortality. Even with dense breast tissue, many cancers can be detected on mammograms. Tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography, can help find additional cancers in women of all breast densities but can be especially helpful in women with dense tissue.

Should I get any other tests in addition to mammography if I have dense breasts?

Dense breast tissue makes it more likely for a cancer to be hidden on a mammogram. While studies have shown that ultrasound and MRI can find additional cancers not seen with mammography, “false positive” findings (findings that require further evaluation or biopsy but turn out to be noncancerous) are common with both MRI and ultrasound. Also, some insurance companies may not cover these tests. If you have dense breasts, please talk with your doctor or breast imaging specialist about the pros and cons of supplemental screening to find out what is best for you.

GET SCREENED:
With Breast Cancer Awareness Month just ending, ask yourself, “Have I had my mammogram this year?” Screening mammography is the only imaging test proven to save lives with early detection. Touchstone Imaging and Lutheran Breast Care Center work together to provide all your breast care needs, including 3-D mammography. Call Touchstone Imaging at 720-683-3005 to schedule your screening mammogram. If you need a diagnostic mammogram, call the Lutheran Breast Care Center at 303-403-3019.