Photo: Getty Images / Larry Washburn
When you think about breast cancer screening, you usually come up with one word: Mammography: But for about half of the women in this Country, this traditional testing method may not be enough.
That's because About 50 percent of women in the US have so-called dense breasts. This description refers to the amount of fibroglandular tissue versus fat in the breast – a factor that affects both cancer risk and disease detection. Laurie Margolies, Chief Physician of Breast Imaging at the Mount Sinai Health System, New York (Related Methods: 5 Simple Ways to Reduce Breast Cancer Risk)
Women with the densest breasts develop five to six times more breast cancer than women with the lowest breast density Margolies says : Why? It might be that there are more Acti in dense breasts for VE tissue, which can develop breast cancer, she explains. "The fat part usually does not develop breast cancer, but with dense breasts, there's more chance that something will go wrong when a cell divides." After diagnosis, women with dense breasts may have an increased chance of developing aggressive or metastatic breast cancer, which reduces the chances of survival of a breast cancer patient.
The other big guy: Mammograms can miss cancer in women with dense breasts. Fatty breast tissue is ideal for mammography. "The cancer appears as a white spot and is easily recognizable in a gray background," explains Dr. Margolies. An extremely dense breast, on the other hand, appears on a mammogram like a piece of white paper. "The cancer is white and the tissue is white, so the cancer is much harder to detect, unless there is some tissue around the tissue," she says. "Dense breast tissue is tissue that could conceal a small cancer ̵
Surprised? You're not alone. A 2017 poll published in the year Oncology Times revealed that only 20 percent of women recognize that breast density plays a role in how well a mammogram detects cancer. Even fewer women knew that dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer.
Now the important stuff: How do you know if your breasts are considered "tight"?
For one thing, younger women in general have thicker breasts than older women. "Breast density is related to the hormonal milieu that the body has," Dr. Margolies. "During menopause, adipose tissue increases and fibroglandular tissue decreases." From an evolutionary point of view, this is likely because the production of milk requires fibroglandular tissue and we no longer need it during menopause. Breast density is likely to have a genetic component as well. Margolies notes, "But nobody knows what it is or how to test a potential breast density gene." (Associated: This company offers genetic tests for breast cancer at home )
However, you can not determine your breast density based on your age or a self-test. When it's time to get your first mammogram (at the age of 40 or 45 – depending on your risk factors – talk to your doctor about your best age), the radiologist will normally record your breast density in the radiology report.
Women were not told that this was in their report, Dr. Margolies. Now, for the first time in 20 years, the FDA is proposing changes to mammography standards to add to patients specific information about their breast density and their impact on mammography accuracy according to CNN . , This information would be provided in the form of a letter with screening results and news bulletins. Today, 37 states are calling for dense breasts to include this information in their results. However, if the changes proposed by the FDA are finalized after a review, this will be a nationwide requirement for all mammography standards.
When the first Connecticut Breast Density Act came into force, a number of health professionals were worried that these laws would be unnecessary, including the patient's procedures, false alarms and anxiety. Dr. Margolies confirms that initial results have actually shown that there were many false positives and that many benign biopsies were performed. She adds, "Over the next eight years, this has improved dramatically."
Today, breast density perception is seen as a lifesaver. This is partly because, with thick breasts, an ultrasound (a complementary breast cancer screening for women with dense breasts) can suffer cancer that a mammogram misses. Dr. Margolies says, "If you take 1,000 women with dense breasts who have a normal mammogram, three have a tiny, low-invasive breast cancer that an ultrasound can detect early."
That does not seem like a big number But considering breast cancer, 40,610 women die every year in the United States. The cases that might otherwise be overlooked prove to be incredibly important. First, make sure you understand the laws of your state regarding breast density – and always ask questions if you are unsure. It could be the difference to catch a cancer early and miss it until it's too late.