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What You Need to Know About Dense Breasts

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Did you receive a letter after your recent mammogram telling you that you have dense breast tissue? If so, don’t panic. Dense breast tissue is normal and is seen in 40 to 50 percent of women.

Still, it’s important that women who have dense breasts are aware of it because they may make detection of breast cancer more difficult on a mammogram and require additional screening at some point in their lives.

On a mammogram, the appearance of breast tissue ranges from fatty to dense.

If a mammogram report describes a patient’s breast as being “dense,” it means there is more fibrous tissue (tissue that gives breasts size and shape) and glandular tissue (produces milk), than there is fat. Dense breast tissue, breast masses, and/or tumors all look white on a mammogram. Fatty tissue looks black. On a black background, it’s easier to see a tumor that looks white. Due to the whiteness, dense breast tissue can make it more difficult for radiologists to see breast masses and tumors.

While dense breast tissue is normal, women with it do have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with fattier breast tissue.

If you have dense breasts, your provider may suggest additional screening; this is possible and common in all women, not just those who have dense breasts. Your provider considers several risk factors such as family history and prior breast screening results before deter-mining if you need additional screening. Additional screening may include use of 3D mammography (tomosynthesis) or a screening MRI of the breasts, a test that is exquisitely sensitive for detection of breast cancer, even in women with dense breasts. Both tests are available and in use at Boston Medical Center.

3 Dense Breast Health Tips

1. Make an appointment with your provider. A copy of your mammogram report will always be sent to your primary care provider to be included in your medical record. A description of the density of your breast tissue is included in your report. Discuss your mammogram report with your doctor so you can know if you need additional screening.

2. Book your yearly mammogram. Mammograms can help save lives, so be sure to continue scheduling yours every year regardless of breast density.

3. Ask questions! Talk to your provider about family history or other risk factors, and ask if you may need additional screening, including breast MRI.

Dr. Gregg Miller

Section Chief, Breast Imaging
Boston Medical Center
Clinical Associate Professor,
Department of Radiology, Boston University

617.414.8282 | bmc.org/mammo