FAQ: What Women Need to Know About Dense Breast Tissue

December 3rd, 2013

Why you need to know

The Illinois legislature has passed Senate bill SB2314 which requires that all mammography/breast imaging facilities notify patients if they have dense breast tissue. Beginning January 1, 2014, if your mammogram at either the Breast Center in Carbondale or Herrin indicates that you have dense tissue, you will receive a results letter informing you about the impact of tissue density.

What is breast density?

Breast density refers to the amount of fat and tissue in the breast as seen on a mammogram. A dense breast has more tissue than fat. Younger women usually have dense breasts. As women get older, their breasts become less dense. After menopause, breast tissue of most women is replaced by fat. Some older women who use hormones may have higher breast density though until they stop using hormones.

Breast Density

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 physician should be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on where you fall on the density scale.

Breast Density in the U.S.

  • 10% of women have almost entirely fatty breasts.
  • 40% of women have scattered areas of fibro glandular density
  • 50% of women have either heterogeneously dense or extremely dense breast tissue

Breast Density In US Women

Why is breast density important?

Having dense breast tissue may increase your risk of getting breast cancer. Dense breast also make it more difficult for doctors to detect breast cancer on a mammogram. Dense breast tissue can look white or light gray on a mammogram. Lumps, both benign and cancerous, also appear white on a mammogram. Learn more about Screening & Diagnostic Mammograms at the Breast Center

If I have dense breasts, do I still need a mammogram?

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. 3D mammography and breast MRI can also help find breast cancers that cannot be seen on conventional 2D mammography. How to prepare for a mammorgram.

What should I do if I have dense breasts? What if I don’t?

If you have dense breasts, please talk to you doctor. Together, you can decide 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 with 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. Breast Center