Cancer: Inquire about dense breast tissue during mammograms

The American Cancer Society recommends women with dense breast tissue undergo a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20, and a mammogram every year starting at age 40. With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a good time to understand breast cancer screening and mammogram recommendations for women with dense tissue.

“A challenge with mammograms is that it’s often harder to distinguish healthy breast tissue from possible cancer in women with dense breast tissue, so those women – and the radiologists who read their mammograms – must be particularly vigilant,” says Dr. Phil Evans, Director of the Center for Breast Care and Professor of Radiology at UT Southwestern.

“Normal dense breast tissue is challenging because malignant tumors may have a similar mammographic appearance or the dense tissue may hide a malignancy,” he said. Breast density refers to the amount of fat and tissue in the breast as seen on a mammogram. A dense breast has more tissue than fat.

About 40 percent of all women in the United States fall into the dense or extremely dense breast category, as classified by the American College of Radiology.

Some U.S. states, including Texas, require patients be informed of their breast density during mammography. This information helps women and their doctors discuss screening tests that are best for them. There are four categories of mammographic density, and the radiologist assigns each mammogram to one of the categories.

“Your doctor should be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on your mammogram report,” Dr. Evans says.

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