"Are you dense?" It's a question more women are discovering the answer to these days following their annual mammogram.
The Breast Density Notification Act signed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett in 2013 requires mammography providers like hospitals to inform women in writing about their breast density.
What is breast density?
Breasts are made up of different types of tissue. Breast density describes the amounts of different tissue in relation to one another. A dense breast has less fat and more glandular and connective tissue than a fatty breast.
Some women have more dense breast tissue than others. Breast density is a classification, not an abnormality.
How do I know if I have dense breasts?
Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads a mammogram. There is a density scale, and a woman's doctor should be able to tell her whether she has dense breasts based on where she falls in the density scale. Most women fall in the middle of the scale. Younger women are more likely to have dense breasts.
Breast density is not based on how your breasts feel to the touch. It is not related to breast size or firmness.
Why is breast density important?
Having dense breast tissue might increase a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. Women who have dense breast tissue have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with less dense breast tissue, according to the American Cancer Society.
Dense breast tissue can make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram. Cancer that is found early is more likely to be treated successfully.
Do I still need a mammogram if I have dense breasts?
Yes! No matter what a woman's breast density is, annual mammograms are still recommended for all women starting at age 40, or younger if there are other risk factors like a family history of breast cancer. A mammogram is the only medical imaging screening test that is proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if a woman has dense breasts.
Do I need more tests if I have dense breasts?
The written notice you get after a mammogram suggests having a conversation with a physician about these options for further imaging tests, which include breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), breast ultrasound and 3-D mammography.
3-D mammography can improve the detection rate of breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue. The Women's Diagnostic Center at Doylestown Hospital offers 3-D mammography. Some insurance companies pay for 3-D mammograms, but others do not. If your insurance does not cover the test, the cost is $65.
These tests all have pros and cons. It is important to discuss your options with your doctor, who knows your personal and family health history.
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About Doylestown Health's Breast Center
Doylestown Health's Breast Center offers comprehensive breast cancer and well-breast care, close to home. From early detection through advanced screening options like 3D mammography, to complex surgical treatments including nipple-sparing mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery, the experts at Doylestown Health are your resource for total breast health. As a member of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Network at Jefferson, Doylestown Health Cancer Institute oncology patients have access to innovative clinical trials, expert second opinions and the latest information in the field of cancer genetics.