It puzzled me that I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer for which I had no genetics or risk factors . In addition, three mammograms missed my cancer. Recently, three cancer entities, The American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health, and Breastcancer.org have all added “Dense Breasts” as a risk factor for breast cancers.
This is significant because I have “dense breasts.” Here’s information from the American Cancer Society:
Having dense breast tissue
Breasts are made up of fatty tissue, fibrous tissue, and glandular tissue. Breasts appear denser on a mammogram when they have more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue. Women with dense breasts on mammogram have a risk of breast cancer that is about 1 1/2 to 2 times that of women with average breast density. Unfortunately, dense breast tissue can also make it harder to see cancers on mammograms.
A number of factors can affect breast density, such as age, menopausal status, the use of certain drugs (including menopausal hormone therapy), pregnancy, and genetics.
Here’s the new information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
What are dense breasts?
Breasts contain glandular, connective, and fat tissue. Breast density is a term that describes the relative amount of these different types of breast tissue as seen on a mammogram. Dense breasts have relatively high amounts of glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue and relatively low amounts of fatty breast tissue.
How do I know if I have dense breasts?
Only a mammogram can show if a woman has dense breasts. Dense breast tissue cannot be felt in a clinical breast exam or in a breast self-exam. For this reason, dense breasts are sometimes referred to as mammographically dense breasts.
How common are dense breasts?
Nearly half of all women age 40 and older who get mammograms are found to have dense breasts. Breast density is often inherited, but other factors can influence it. Factors associated with lower breast density include increasing age, having children, and using tamoxifen. Factors associated with higher breast density include using postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and having a low body mass index.
How is breast density categorized?
Doctors use the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System, called BI-RADS, to group different types of breast density. This system, developed by the American College of RadiologyExit Disclaimer, helps doctors to interpret and report back mammogram findings. Doctors who review mammograms are called radiologists. BI-RADS classifies breast density into four categories, as follows:
- (A) Almost entirely fatty breast tissue, found in about 10% of women
- (B) Scattered areas of dense glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue (scattered fibroglandular breast tissue) found in about 40% of women
- (C) Heterogeneously dense breast tissue with many areas of glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue, found in about 40% of women
- (D) Extremely dense breast tissue, found in about 10% of women
If you are told that you have dense breasts, it means that you have either “heterogeneously dense” (C) or “extremely dense” (D) breasts.
Research has shown that dense breasts can be twice as likely to develop cancer as nondense breasts and can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer.
Knowing whether you have dense breasts is important because:
- Dense breasts make it harder for doctors to see breast cancers on mammograms.This increases the risk that cancers will be missed.
- Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who don’t have dense breasts.The greater the amount of dense tissue, the higher the risk. However, you don’t necessarily have a high risk of breast cancer just because you have dense breasts. Breast density has to be considered along with other risk factors, such as age, family history, and any history of breast biopsies showing atypical cells or other changes that increase cancer risk.
Breast density is one piece of the puzzle in thinking about your breast health and breast cancer screening plan. Three sources are a charm. Next time you get your mammogram, ask your radiologist if you have “dense breasts.” If you do, monthly self-examinations will be of utmost importance. You should demand the newer 3-D mammogram if not offered, and occasionally doing an MRI, thermogram, or ultrasound is a good idea.
Do you know if you have dense breasts? If not, find out.
For Your Health,
Ginny Dent Brant is a speaker and writer who grew up in the halls of power in Washington, DC. She has battled cancer, ministered around the world, and served on the front lines of American culture as a counselor, educator, wellness advocate, and adjunct professor. Brant’s award-winning book, Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World, was endorsed by Chuck Colson and featured in many TV and media interviews. Unleash Your God-Given Healing: Eight Steps to Prevent and Survive Cancer was released in May 2020 after her journey with cancer and was recently awarded the First Place Golden Scrolls Award for Memoirs, and Second Place in both Selah Awards for Memoirs and Director’s Choice Award for Nonfiction at the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference. It was written with commentary from an oncologist and was featured on CBN’s Healthy Living Show, Atlanta Live, and CTN’s Homekeepers. Learn more and cancer and wellness prevention blog and book information at www.ginnybrant.com.