(WLNS) – Dense breasts. It’s a phrase that is familiar to many women. But what are dense breasts and how does that impact tests for breast cancer?
According to the website breastcancer.org, dense breasts typically have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren’t dense. There are a number of ways to measure breast density, including thickness of tissue on a mammogram and the categorization of breast patterns into four tissue types in the breast. How breasts feel during a self-exam or a doctor’s exam is not a determination of dense breasts. One thing to remember is that breast density can be inherited, so if your mother has dense breasts, it is likely that you will also have dense breasts.
According to researchers, dense breasts can be six times more likely to develop cancer. It’s also more difficult to detect breast cancer in dense breasts. That’s primarily because breast cancers appear white, like breast gland tissue. Those cancers show up easier on a mammogram because when they’re surrounded in non-dense breasts with fatty tissue, which appears white.
So if you have dense breasts what can you do to reduce your risk of cancer?
– maintaining a healthy weight
– exercising regularly
– limiting alcohol
– eating nutritious food
– never smoking (or quitting if you do smoke)
There are also some steps you can follow, with the help of your doctor, to develop a screening strategy. These steps might include a monthly breast self-exam, a yearly breast exam with your doctor and a digital mammogram annually beginning at age 40. Why a digital mammogram? A digital mammogram will generally result in a better image than film mammograms for women with dense breasts.
You might also consider adding a MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, of the breasts. A doctor might also recommend an ultrasound exam as part of your screening plan. Keep your test results and compare them. Understand what you are seeing in the test results and don’t be afraid of asking whatever questions you might have regarding those tests.