Breast Density and Living

Breast cancer patients with dense breasts do not have greater risks of dying

(RxWiki News) Maybe you’ve been told you have “dense breasts.” This has to do with the types of tissue that make up your breasts. Dense breasts have more types of tissue - such as milk ducts – and less fat. On a mammogram, this tissue shows up white instead of gray, which is fat.

Having dense breasts is a risk factor for breast cancer. However, women with dense breasts who have had breast cancer are not at greater risk of dying from the disease.

"Find out if you have dense breasts."

These are the findings of a study led by Gretchen L. Gierach, PhD of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This research was completed in collaboration with NCI-sponsored Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC).

"Although there is a slight increased risk of developing breast cancer among women with dense breasts (the risk has been exaggerated by some analysts), the good news is that women with dense breast tissue are not at increased risk of dying from breast cancer,” Daniel J Kopans, MD told dailyRx in an email.

Dr. Kopans is professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and senior radiologist of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital.

For this study, researchers evaluated data on more than 9,000 women from the BCSC, a registry of breast imaging facilities in the United States. Women in the study were 30 or older who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between January 1996 and December 2005.

The patients were followed for about 6.5 years. By then, a total of some 1,800 deaths had occurred, including nearly 900 from breast cancer and 900 from other causes. Breast density was measured, and data on tumor characteristics, as well as personal and health information were also analyzed.

After adjusting for other health factors, the analysis found that women with dense breasts as seen on a mammogram did not have higher risks of dying from breast cancer than women with lower density breasts.

The study did find that obese women with lower density breasts were at greater risk of dying from breast cancer.

Dr. Kopans said, “In this study, obese women with mostly fat in their breasts had an increased risk of dying from their cancers. This means that all women should participate in annual mammography screening which has been shown to lower the death rate in women with all types of breast tissue."

The study appeared August 20 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Review Date: 
August 22, 2012