Breast Density: Does it Increase Your Breast Cancer Risk?

Women reading a radiologist’s report of their recent screening mammography may learn for the first time they have “dense breast tissue.” At The BreastCare Center at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC), YRMC Imaging Services and Prescott Medical Imaging, they will also learn their lifetime risk for breast cancer.

Arizona, and more than half of states nationwide, have passed breast density notification laws intended to inform women who have undergone mammography about their breast density. YRMC also is arming women and their doctors with an assessment of the woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer during her lifetime. The goal is to increase understanding of breast density and inform women and physicians’  regarding any additional action.

“Breast density information is more valuable when it’s combined with an assessment of the woman’s lifetime risk for breast cancer,” said Kathi Hoffer, YRMC’s Imaging Services Operations Manager at the BreastCare Center. “With this information, a woman and her physician can develop a plan that may include additional screening, such as breast MRI or ultrasound.”

Understanding Breast Density

What is breast density? It’s a way to describe the composition of a woman’s breasts. It compares the area of breast and connective tissue – as seen on a mammogram – to the area of fat. Breast and connective tissue are denser than fat, so high breast density means there is more breast and connective tissue as compared to fat. Low breast density means there is a greater amount of fat as compared to breast and connective tissue.

“Everyone is born with a breast pattern, just like a fingerprint,” said Hoffer. “Some people have a dense breast pattern and some do not.”

A dense breast pattern is normal. In fact, approximately 40 percent of women over the age of 40 have dense breasts. On a mammogram, dense breast tissue appears white as do breast masses or tumors. This means dense tissue can sometimes mask tumors. Additionally, for reasons researchers are still studying, women who have dense breast tissue have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with less dense breast tissue.

Information Gives You Power

“There’s lots of confusion about breast density,” Hoffer said. “Many people think they have dense breasts and in reality they do not. Others are not aware that they do have dense breasts.”

YRMC’s mammography reports create a complete picture of each woman’s lifetime risk for breast cancer. The assessment takes into account:

Age

Breast density

Ethnicity

Family history

Genetics (BRCA1 or BRCA2)

Onset of menstruation and menopause

Previous breast biopsy or breast cancer

Pregnancy history

Women with dense breasts are encouraged to speak to their physicians to develop a plan to monitor their breast health. Some women with dense breasts also undergo breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and/or ultrasound. It’s also recommended that future mammograms be done as 3-D or breast tomosynthesis.

The first step is to get regular digital mammography screening. Women who can’t afford to undergo regular screening may be eligible for mammography screening through the YRMC Community BreastCare Fund. To learn more about the fund, contact (928) 442-8900 or visit yrmc.org/services/breastcare-center.

For more information about

breast screening contact:

The BreastCare Center at YRMC –
(928) 442-8900

Imaging Services at YRMC West –
(928) 442-8900

Prescott Medical Imaging –
(928) 771-7577

Author: PrescottWomanMagazine

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