In 2016, South Carolina joined the growing number of states that require mammography providers to give patients reports about their breast density. The goal is for patients with dense breasts to know they may have an increased risk for breast cancer.
But that doesn’t mean having dense breasts is necessarily a “bad” thing. In fact, about half of women ages 40 -74 have dense breasts, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. But it’s important to know if you have dense breasts to help guide decision making about your health care and screening choices. Breast density cannot be determined by feel.
“Women with dense breasts have an increased risk of breast cancer, and high breast density also makes it more difficult to identify breast cancer – especially when using traditional 2-D mammography,” says Dr. John Hungerford, a radiologist at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital. “Women with dense breasts therefore may benefit from different testing.”
3-D mammography as offered through the Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care, is the only exam approved by the FDA as superior to standard 2-D mammography for routine cancer screenings of women with dense breasts.
“We’ve invested in these advanced technologies because they have been proven to detect 20 to 65 percent more invasive cancers,” Hungerford says. “Also, 3-D mammography can help reduce the number of repeat testing women with dense breast undergo due to inconclusive results using 2-D mammography.”
Dense breasts have high proportions of fibrous or glandular tissue and relatively little fat. There are four categories for breast density: almost entirely fatty, scattered fibroglandular density, heterogeneously dense and extremely dense. If you are diagnosed with heterogeneously dense or extremely dense breasts, you’ll want to talk to your physician about your options for breast cancer screening, Hungerford says.
“Breast density may vary over time and therefore you may have a mammogram one year that describes your breasts as heterogeneously dense and a mammogram the next year which describes your breasts as extremely dense,” Hungerford says. “The density of breasts is influenced by many factors including diet, weight loss and gain, hormones and age.”
If you are concerned about any aspect of your breast health, you should talk to your physician, he said. It’s important to discuss your risk of breast cancer to determine the screening options that are right for you.