Do You Have Dense Breasts?

Breast density education among women needed

(RxWiki News) Women need to know whether or not they have dense breasts for a couple of reasons – important reasons. Breast density can affect breast cancer risks and therefore cancer screenings.

Breast density has to do with the type of tissue that makes up your breast. Denser breasts are harder to examine with a mammogram. And for this reason, women who have dense breasts may need additional screenings and testing.

Researchers found that most women with dense breasts in a recent study wanted to be screened with more than just mammography.

"Find out if you have dense breasts."

Jafi Lipson, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California teamed with Haatal B. Dave, MD, MS, resident physician at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., recently surveyed 105 women.

This term – dense breasts – has become a popular term, but what exactly does it mean?

We asked Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who was not involved in this study. “Dense breasts have a lot of fibrous tissue in the background (ie, "lumpy-bumpy" breasts) sometimes making it harder to see abnormalities on mammogram,” Dr. Brufsky told dailyRx News.

Both the fibrous tissue and tumors look white on a mammogram image. This makes it more difficult to see white tumors in a sea of white. So, mammography might not pick up these breast tumors until they’re more advanced. For this study, the ladies were asked if they knew whether or not they had dense breasts. Most of them did not know.

Researchers explained that dense breasts increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. They were also asked if they would like to have additional testing, even though additional testing can mean substantial out-of-pocket expenses, can be invasive and result in a high number of false positives. False positives indicate cancer is present when it is not.

Of all the women surveyed, 76 percent didn’t know whether or not they had dense breasts. Nearly half – 46 percent of these women – had either dense or extremely dense tissue, the researchers found. And according to the researchers, a majority of the ladies were interested in having more screening, despite the cost, procedure and results downsides, all which were explained fully.

"We hope this study raises awareness that dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer and that alternative technologies, including automated whole-breast ultrasound and contrast-enhanced mammography, are available to aid in screening women with dense breasts," Dr. Dave said in a news release.

Contrast-enhanced mammography uses a contrast agent to enhance and highlight areas where lesions could be present. And whole-breast ultrasound, which has been around for a while, uses sound waves to look at the interior of the breast.

Dr. Dave pointed out that the need for additional screenings is not universally accepted. As a result of this lack of evidence, most states don’t require insurers to cover the costs of these procedures.

Whole breast ultrasound costs roughly $350 as does a contrast-enhanced mammogram. Depending on where it’s performed – a physician’s office or outpatient facility – and what equipment is used, a breast biopsy costs can range from $1,100 to $5,000. 

What is well accepted at this point is that women need more information about dense breasts. Dr. Brufsky said, “"Our study highlights the need for patient education regarding breast density," Dr. Lipson said in press release.

This study was presented November 27 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). All research is considered preliminary before it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Review Date: 
November 27, 2012