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Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. The tissue inside your breasts can be different types too. Some breast tissue is fatty. Other breast tissue is dense. "Dense" means it's made of thick, fibrous tissue and milk glands.
You can learn how dense your breasts are from your mammogram report. There are four levels of breast density:
All of these breast types are normal.
Things that can affect your breast density include your family history (genetics), being pregnant, and using estrogen hormone therapy. Your age can also make a difference. Breast tissue in younger women tends to be denser than in older women who have been through menopause.
Having dense breasts may affect your plans for breast cancer screening. The more dense a breast is, the harder it is to see cancer on a mammogram image. That's because dense tissue looks white onscreen, just like cancer does.
Breast cancer tends to grow in dense breast tissue more often than in fatty breast tissue. So having dense breasts may slightly increase your risk for breast cancer.
On its own, breast density is not a major risk factor for cancer. Your level of breast density is one piece of your total cancer risk.
You can't tell how dense your breasts are by looking in the mirror or feeling them. The mammogram report sent to your doctor tells how dense your breasts are. It's written by the radiologist who reads your mammogram.
If you have questions about your breast density or other concerns, get a copy of your mammogram report. Then talk to your doctor about it.
There are several commonly used breast cancer screening tests. Each type of test shows breast tissue differently and finds things that the others don't.
Talk with your doctor about your breast density and any other breast cancer risk factors you have. Based on your unique information, your doctor can help you decide about screening.
Your screening options include:
If breast cancer screening tests can't tell you that a spot is harmless, your next step is to decide whether to have a biopsy tested for cancer cells.
There are new tests for detecting breast cancer. But they need more research before they become widely available and paid for by insurance. The most promising of these is digital breast tomosynthesis. This test is also called tomography or 3D mammography.
May 24, 2013
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Howard Schaff, MD - Diagnostic Radiology
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