What is breast density?
Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and
glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Your breasts are
considered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or
glandular tissue but not much fat. Density may
decrease with age, but there is little, if any,
change in most women.
How do I know if I have dense breasts?
Breast density is determined by the radiologist who
reads your mammogram. There are four categories of
mammographic density. The radiologist assigns each
mammogram to one of the categories. Your doctor
should be able to tell you whether you have dense
breasts based on where you fall on the density scale.
(See scale below.)
Breast density in the U.S. (See pie chart)
- 10% of women have almost entirely fatty breasts
- 10% have extremely dense breasts
- 80% are classified into one of two middle categories
Why is breast density important?
Having dense breast tissue may increase your risk of getting
breast cancer. Dense breasts also make it more difficult
for doctors to spot cancer on mammograms. Dense tissue
appears white on a mammogram. Lumps, both benign and
cancerous, also appear white. So, mammograms can be
less accurate in women with dense breasts.
If I have dense breasts, do I still need
Yes. A mammogram is the only medical imaging
screening test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths.
Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if you
have dense breast tissue.
Are any tests better than a mammogram
for dense breasts?
In breasts that are dense, cancer can be hard to see on
a mammogram. Studies have shown that ultrasound
and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find
breast cancers that can’t be seen on a mammogram.
However, both MRI and ultrasound, show more
findings that are not cancer, which can result in added
testing and unnecessary biopsies. Also, the cost of
ultrasound and MRI may not be covered by insurance.
See Cash Pay Pricing
What should I do if I have dense breasts?
What if I don’t?
If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor.
Together, you can decide which, if any, additional
screening exams are right for you.
If your breasts are not dense, other factors may
still place you at increased risk for breast cancer —
including a family history of the disease, previous
chest radiation treatment for cancer and previous
breast biopsies that show you are high risk. Talk to your
doctor and discuss your history.
Even if you are at low risk, and have entirely fatty
breasts, you should still get an annual mammogram
starting at age 40.
The American College of Radiology, Society of Breast
Imaging and American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists, among others, recommend that all
women have yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.
Women at high risk may benefit from starting earlier.
Self-scheduling at integrisok.com/mymammo