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June 30, 2017

Do you have dense breasts? Here’s what you need to know

Women's Health Preventive Care

Content sponsored by Cooper Native Badge

If a recent mammogram showed you have dense breast tissue, you may wonder what this means.

Having dense breasts is actually a fairly common diagnosis.

Dense breasts are not reflective of how heavy and firm your breasts are to the touch, but how the tissue in your breasts appears on a mammogram. Women usually find out their breast density in their early 40s, as this is when they typically begin getting routine mammograms.

Breasts are made up of different types of tissue. Dense breasts are higher in fibroglandular tissue (a combination of connective and glandular tissue) and lesser in fatty tissue. There are different categorizations of breast density based on the percentage of fibroglandular tissue within the breast:

  1. Low Density is categorized as less than 25 percent of fibroglandular tissue.
  2. Scattered Density is less than 50 percent.
  3. Heterogeneous Density is greater than 50 percent but less than 75 percent.
  4. Extreme Density is greater than 75 percent.

It's not clear why some women have a lot of dense breast tissue and others do not. You may be more likely to have dense breasts if you:

  1. Are younger. Women in their 40s and 50s are most likely to have dense breast tissue. Your breast tissue tends to become less dense as you age, though some women may have dense breast tissue at any age.
  2. Are premenopausal. Premenopausal women are more likely to have dense breasts.
  3. Take hormone therapy for menopause. Women who take combination hormone therapy to relieve signs and symptoms of menopause are more likely to have dense breasts.

Doctors know dense breast tissue makes breast cancer screening more difficult and it may increase the risk of breast cancer, though it’s not known why. Dense breast tissue makes it more difficult to interpret a mammogram since cancer and dense breast tissue both appear white on a mammogram. Very dense breasts may increase the risk that cancer won't be detected on a mammogram. Sometimes additional imaging studies like an MRI, ultrasound or contrast-enhanced mammogram are recommended when mammograms are inconclusive or difficult to interpret.

Choosing an imaging center with advanced imaging technology and specially trained breast imagers reading your studies is essential. MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper offers advanced breast cancer screening and diagnostic services with four radiologists who specialize in breast imaging. The MD Anderson Cooper Breast Imaging Centers are certified as Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence by the American College of Radiology — an accreditation that exemplifies MD Anderson Cooper’s impeccable standards.

If you have dense breasts, you deserve a team of physicians and health care providers who can provide answers to any questions you may have and provide recommendations for ongoing monitoring. But having the right answers from a team you can trust will allow you to maintain an understanding of your body at a time when you might you might feel your body has control over you. Support from a knowledgeable team who cares can make all the difference in the world.

MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper has developed a specialized Dense Breast Program designed for women who have questions or concerns about their dense breast diagnosis and who are looking for answers and recommendations for lifesaving breast cancer screenings.

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