Breast Density: What is it and why does it matter?

Breast Density: What is it and why does it matter?

If you do not already know the status of your breast density, you soon will.  Beginning on January 1, 2013 radiology professionals  in New York State will be required to inform patients on their breast density when they have screening tests done, like an annual mammogram.  The law, which was passed in June 2012, makes New York the fourth state to adhere by these standards.  The legislation’s goal is to make women aware of their breast density so that they and their doctors can make informed decisions about breast cancer screening options.

Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular tissue and fatty tissue. High breast density is totally normal.   About 10% of the population will fall in the category of having highly dense breasts, another 10% will have high fatty tissue in their breasts and the rest will fall somewhere in between.

So why does breast density matter?   In breasts that are dense, cancer can be hard to see on a mammogram.   All women are still advised to first have a mammogram.  However, if you have highly dense breasts and other risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, your doctor may advise you to have additional screening performed.  Traditionally, this additional screening will simply involve an ultrasound, but MRI is another tool used.  The options for screening are best determined by you and your doctor, and by knowing your breast density you can now be proactive and have that conversation with your doctor.

For most women, learning you have dense breasts will not change your annual screening process, but talking with your radiologist and your doctor about all your options is always encouraged.  Having additional screening like an ultrasound is quick, painless and very available to women.  Ultimately, it works toward the goal of providing a more complete picture of your health for doctors to effectively screen for cancer.  Early detection has been repeatedly shown to dramatically increase the survivorship of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

While visiting us at Southtowns Radiology, if you are identified as having highly dense breasts you will be informed of this by the doctor.  You will also be provided with informational materials to explain breast density and what it means.  If the doctor recommends that you have additional screening done, you will likely be able to have that test completed in our office on the same day.  And as always, if you would like to speak directly to the radiologist about your tests and ask questions, you will have the opportunity to do that.  Our goal at Southtowns Radiology is to provide you with the best breast cancer screening that is right for you so that you can have peace of mind when leaving our office.