Dense Breasts on Mammogram? Don’t Be Afraid

The first thing to know is that if you’ve been told that you have dense breast tissue, you are in good company. Approximately 40-50% of women in the U.S., aged 40-74, fall into that category.

But what does the word “dense” really mean?


On a mammogram, non-dense breast tissue appears gray and transparent. Dense breast tissue appears as a solid white area on a mammogram, which makes it difficult to see through. Dense breast tissue makes it more difficult to interpret a mammogram since cancer and dense breast tissue both appear white on a mammogram. Very dense breasts may increase the risk that cancer won’t be detected on a mammogram. Still, having dense breasts does not mean you have a tumor or that you will get breast cancer. For the majority of women, it primarily means patients and their physicians will need to take some additional care and consideration in future screenings.


Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads your mammogram. Breasts are measured in four categories of denseness, one being compromised almost entirely of fatty tissue and four being extremely dense.

At Southtowns Radiology, we use VolparaDensity, a software to more accurately categorize breast density into the four categories defined by the American College of Radiology. This computer algorithm calculates breast density automatically based on your mammogram scan. The advantage is that you will always get the most consistent picture of your breast density, with no possible variations from one doctor to the next. Knowing what category your breast density falls into helps determine what additional screening options are best for you.


3D mammography is especially recommended for women with dense breasts, however, multiple studies have found that it detects 41% more invasive cancers in women of all breast tissue types. Southtowns Radiology recommends that women with both dense or with fatty breast tissue consider 3D mammography for their screening exam.

For patients with dense breast tissue, we recommend the addition of a breast ultrasound to your annual screening regiment. An ultrasound uses sound waves to travel through the breast tissue and unlike a mammogram it is not limited by breast density. There is no radiation, it is essentially pain-free and serves as a useful tool if used in conjunction with a mammogram. If having an ultrasound will reassure you that you’ve done everything you can to screen for breast cancer then ask your ordering doctor to order you a breast ultrasound in addition to your screening mammogram.

In conclusion, knowing what dense breast tissue means can help women understand and take advantage of the variety of screening methods available. Knowledge is protection.

At Southtowns Radiology, our highly trained technologists take pride in offering the best imaging along with the best possible experience for every patient they care for. Schedule your mammogram today.

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