Testing: Breast Density

Health Watch is a Public Service of the University News Bureau and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

This week on Health Watch, we’ve been talking about important medical tests that help doctors diagnose disease. Mammograms are one of the most effective ways to diagnose breast cancer, but they may not be as effective for some women.

Women who have particularly dense breast tissue may get different mammogram results. Dr. Roshni Rao, a breast surgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says that dense tissue shows up as white on a mammogram, making it more difficult to detect cancers, which show up as white spots. Dense breast tissue is a risk factor for breast cancer, and doctors should take that and other risk factors into consideration when developing a screening plan.

Digital mammograms may be more effective for women with dense breast tissue. Other tests, like magnetic resonance imaging, ultrasound or thermography, may be used in addition to mammograms. Women older than 20 should have an annual breast exam performed by a doctor, and women older than 40 should have an annual mammogram.