Did your last mammogram report say you have dense breasts? It’s more common than you think. Almost half of all women who get mammograms are found to have dense breasts, and many don’t know what it means.
Understanding Dense Breast Tissue
Breast density describes the different kinds of tissue that show on your mammogram. Your breasts are made of fat, connective tissue, and milk ducts and lobules that together are called glandular tissue.
“Dense breasts have higher amounts of glandular and connective tissue and lower amounts of fatty tissue,” explains Jan Rothschild, MD, a breast surgeon with Steward Health Care and Steward Medical Group. “Breast density matters because women with dense breasts have a minimally higher risk for breast cancer than women with fatty breasts.”
Factors Affecting Breast Density
Experts aren’t sure why having dense breasts increases your risk for cancer. Typically, breast density is inherited, but other factors can influence it. You may have higher breast density if you’ve used postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy or are underweight for your height. You are more likely to have lower breast density as you age, if you have had children, or if you have taken a breast cancer prevention drug called tamoxifen.
Should You Have Additional Tests?
If you have dense breasts, speak with your doctor about your personal risk factors for breast cancer and whether you should have more screening tests, such as 3D mammography, a breast ultrasound, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam. Typically, further testing is not recommended simply for dense breasts in the absence of other risk factors.
Regular screening is key to catching breast cancer early. You can also reduce your cancer risk by maintaining a healthy body weight, getting enough exercise, and limiting alcoholic drinks.
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