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  • Writer's pictureDMS - Digital Mammography & Women's Imaging

Understanding Breast Density: Risk & New Screening Options Made Simple!

The Four Categories of Breast Density

The reason breast density is a risk factor for breast cancer is it's tougher to find tiny tumors. If you have very dense breasts, as noted on your mammogram report, Don't stress out.

Extreme density makes you an increased lifetime risk for developing breast cancer when compared to the normal population that doesn't have as dense breast. Because of that density it's harder to find tiny tumors when they're small or developing and more curable.

If you have dense breast we’re going to share with you your options, what you need to know, and what you need to do about it. in this post we’re gonna tell you exactly what breast density is. You’re going to learn the challenges that come with screening women with dense breast.

You’re also going to learn why getting 3D mammograms are essential and also some new technologies such as automated whole breast ultrasound that can help identify tumors when they're small if you have dense breasts.

What exactly is breast density on a mammogram?

Breast density is a term used by radiologists to describe the hard to see through tissue, thicker tissue within a breast on a mammogram.

Some women have no density. Other women have severe density, but when you take the women that we categorize as dense breasts, about 30 to 40 percent of women have dense breast.

The problem is, that if you have very dense breasts for a reasons we cannot explain has an increased risk of developing breast cancer and there's nothing that you can do to make them less dense nor is there anything that you would have done to develop breast density it's just a part if you.

Women in their 40s have a higher incidence of breast density than when they're 50 or 60 or 70. Some women will decrease in density in general as they age, but that's not true for every woman. The medical community is still learning about this subject.

We really don't know what causes it. We’re trying to learn what it means for you and what we can do to work around this problem so we can find breast cancers, very small, very early, while they’re curable.

Why does breast density pose such a challenge when getting an annual screening mammogram?

We’re trying to look into your breast to find things that you not yet are able to feel.

And when you do a mammogram, if you have low density breasts or no density breast, it's almost like x-raying through a glass of water you can see almost anything when it's really small.

But If you have a very dense breast, it's like x-raying a brick. it's hard to see tiny things in that dense area of breast tissue. Radiologists use a categorization score called, bi-rads density score.

Radiologist looking at x-rays

They score women on a scale from 1 (low or no density) to 4 (extreme dense breasts). If you are a 3 or 4, that's considered high breast density or dense breast.

You should get that information from your doctor so you know if you have dense breasts. Mammograms are still important but not quite as accurate in women with dense breast.

Why 3D mammograms are essential if you have dense breast.

Digital to 2D mammograms are everywhere, and it's a very good way to screen you for cancer but 3D mammograms are made for women who have dense breast. The machine still takes x rays the same as 2D, but the head of the x-ray machine arcs and takes multiple images of dense breast to produce a 3D image.

The radiologists then views these 3D images to better look through dense breast to find out

if there is a small cancer and also, it decreases the chance the the radiologists having you to come back for a follow-up x-ray and it decreases the chance they recommend a biopsy that never needed.

3D mammograms are not available everywhere, but they’re rolling out across the country. If

you have very dense breast, the Breast Cancer School for Patients recommends you find a

facility that offers 3D mammography like DMS.

A new technology designed for breast density is automated whole breast ultrasound.

You’ve heard of ultrasound where gel is placed on the skin and a handheld probe is used to look into the body. The breast in this case. Usually breast ultrasound is used to find a problem such as a cyst or a growth, it’s very helpful. But it’s not good for screening.

Automated whole breast ultrasound is an FDA approved device where an ultrasound pad is placed on the breast then an ultrasound can scan through the entire breast and take that information to create a 3D image.

The radiologists then looks at that 3D image and compare it to a mammogram or last year’s automated whole breast ultrasound to see if there's new growths.

Automated whole breast ultrasound is not everywhere in fact it’s not available in many places but when combined with a mammography screening and in women with very dense breast, it can increase the chance of detecting a small cancer by almost 50%.

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