• Tue, Oct 15 - 6:30 pm ET

You Should Find Out How Dense Your Breasts Are

breast density

This woman looks so stoked about her mammogram.

Did you totally grope your own bosom for a second? I did, but it was a fruitless endeavor because breast density is not something you can feel with your hands. When it comes to breast density, as Women’s Health’s Casey Geueren puts it,  ”you can’t feel this out on your own, you might find out about it at your next screening: Many states have adopted breast density notification laws, which require physicians to inform a patient if they have dense breasts.”

Debra Ikeda, M.D., professor of radiology at Stanford School of Medicine names two reasons why breast density is important:

1) ”There’s an association between dense breast tissue and a slightly higher risk of having breast cancer,” but still less of a risk than genetic factors.

2)  Masking which is what happens when dense breast tissue appears white on mammograms. Masking makes detecting cancer more difficult, but don’t fret, recent studies suggest that it’s less of an issue when employing digital rather than film screen mammograms. Yay for progress.

If you do have dense breasts, there’s no reason to freak out; about half of us do and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything significant. Find out if you have a dense set and keep it in mind when you talk to your doctor about your breasts. You may need additional screening, but you may not.

via ABC News//Image via Shutterstock 

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  • Jackie Hanel Emerson

    Question: why do they still insist on mammograms, then, if an ultrasound is a better screener?

    • Joanna Rafael

      Beats me.

  • Fabel

    Why is this not something I can figure out by groping myself?

    • Joanna Rafael

      Pretty sure it’s because you can’t tell if it’s fatty tissue or fibro-glandular based on physical touch :(

    • Joanna Rafael

      Pretty sure it’s because you can’t tell if it’s fatty tissue or fibro-glandular based on physical touch :(

  • JoAnn Pushkin

    Breast density is determined through your mammogram. Mammograms also detect about 15% of cancers which are not found by ultrasound, so, mammograms remain the best first step in screening for all women, but for women with dense breasts should not be the last. Breast density refers to tissue composition and has nothing to do with the way breasts look or feel.

    What is important to know is that for women with the densest breasts, mammograms will find LESS than 50% of cancers. These same women are also 4-6x more likely to get breast cancer than women with the least dense breasts. According to the American Cancer Society, breast density is a greater relative risk for the development of breast cancer than having not one, but TWO first degree relatives who have had the disease.

    The additional of an ultrasound after a mammogram in a dense breast DOUBLES the number of cancers found by mammogram alone. My own cancer was missed an estimated five years in a row obscured behind dense tissue. On the day it was large to feel – it was not detectable by mammography but did display on ultrasound clear as a bell. Needless to say, a cancer large enough to feel is no longer early stage. If the goal is finding cancers early, when most treatable and survivable, dense breasted women need additional screening after their mammograms.

    • Joanna Rafael

      Thank you so much for sharing!!