Breast density is recognized as one of and possibly the strongest risk factor associated with development of breast cancer, according to the National Institute of Health. Having dense breasts is also common. In fact, it is so common that over 40% of women have dense breasts. Which is why it is so shocking that most women don’t know they have dense breast tissue and what it means for them.
What is dense breast tissue?
Dense breast tissue is made up of more connective tissue than breasts that contain more fatty tissue. It is not something you can feel, a screening mammogram can tell you if you have dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram.
Cancer also appears white on a mammogram, so you see the problem?
It's like looking for a polar bear in a white out snowstorm.
What does that mean?
For a woman with dense breasts, again that’s 43% of women, a “clear” mammogram likely means nothing. A full breast ultrasound is better able to screen dense breast tissue. Cancer in ultrasound appears black against the white of the dense breast tissue allowing for better visibility.
A full breast ultrasound of dense breasts should be standard practice for women with dense breast tissue. Unfortunately there is no national mandate on how dense breasts are diagnosed, how and if women are informed of their density and/or referred for additional screening. Even for the most proactive woman most insurances still will not cover the ultrasound screening.
Many women are faced with the difficult decision of paying out of pocket for the advanced screening or skipping the screening all together, hoping for the best and living with the consequences. While other women are being told they have a clear mammogram, only to discover later they have advanced breast cancer that went undiagnosed due to their breast density.
What can you do?
Discuss all your risk factors with your doctor, in addition to your breast density, so that you can make the best decisions and advocate for your best health care options. It is so easy to get caught up in everyday life and put off taking care of yourself. Please educate the women in your life, help each other get to your appointments, and hold each other accountable for following up with your doctors.
We believe everyone should have the right to information and resources required to benefit from an early breast cancer diagnosis.
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READ 3 Important Questions To Ask At Your Mammogram Appointment