Last updated 09/25/2021
Are you aware whether you have dense breast tissue or not? This also determines what type of mammogram screening you should have. Most importantly it molds a huge difference heterogeneously dense or fatty.
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5 Myths Connected to Breast Cancer
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Your breast tissue contains different mixtures or varieties in the amount of fatty and fibroglandular substance. Breast tissue may either be proclaimed non-dense (more fatty) or dense (less fatty with more fibroglandular tissue). In short breast anatomy includes lobules, ducts, fatty and fibrous connective tissue.
Fibrous tissue is responsible for keeping other structures in place. In addition it can also be exclaimed supportive or connective.
Glandular tissue the part where the breast produces milk (aka lobules) and the tiny tubes carrying milk from lobules to the nipples, named ducts. In short combined; fibrous and glandular tissue referred to as fibroglandular tissue.
How Would You Know You have Heterogeneously Dense or Fatty Breast?
Going for your mammogram is the best way to detect if your breast are heterogeneously dense or fatty. You can’t tell breast density by how the breasts feel, their size or firmness. That is to say it is only seen on a mammogram.
This carries the importance of having a mammogram for early detection. It doesn’t matter if you have dense breasts or not, it is recommended if you are of screening age. Moreover your radiologist (doctor who reads x-rays) will check for abnormal areas as well as determine the level of your breast density.
There is a comparison from fatty tissue versus dense tissue. Breast density is a measure employed to describe the images on a mammogram. Moreover this is done using the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS).
Heterogeneously Dense or Fatty Breast Imaging
Density levels are recorded in mammograms using letters A-D.
A: Almost Entirely Fatty
Scattered areas of fibroglandular density meaning some scattered areas are seen. Still most of the breast tissue is non-dense. This is usually found in about 40% of women.
C: Heterogeneously Dense
C: Heterogeneously dense Meaning there are some areas of non-dense tissue, still most of the breast tissue is dense. In conclusion this is found in about 40% of women.
D: Extremely Dense
Furthermore meaning the breast tissue is nearly all dense. This is found in about 10% of women.
What the Image Reporting Means
The first two categories (A&B) are referred to as low density, non-dense or fatty breast. While women in the second two (C&D) are referred to as high density or dense breast. In conclusion half those 40 and older have dense and this can shift over time.
Letter About Dense Breast
Depending on your area, you may receive a letter notifying you if you have dense breast. In some states in the US it’s actually a law. The recipient then understands the accuracy of her mammogram is less than those with a lower density.
With some cases, the letter may include supplemental imaging options along with the mammogram, as a breast ultrasound or MRI. As a result this delivers more options to receive a better detection for cancer in woman who have dense breast.
For those living in other areas where information about dense breast is not sent out follow up. You can always request a copy of the mammogram report. Querying your doctor what kind of breast tissue you have is also a start. In addition if you wish clarification, consult your healthcare team.
According to the National Cancer Institute almost half of women age 40 and older going for mammograms are classified under dense breasts.
Because of our hormones breasts transform as we age. More women have dense breast before having children or before menopause. After having children or going through menopause, the breasts tend to be fatty. Certainly it's essential with these factors to stay up to date with your breast density.
Factors Contributing to Dense Breast
Dense breast tissue has been shown to run in families. Being aware of your family history can guide you with keeping proactive with your health.
Low Body Mass Index
Going through weight loss can increase the amount of dense versus fatty in a woman’s breasts. Thou losing weight is good to prevent type II Diabetes and have a healthy heart. However this is still an area to research along with how the diet affects breast density.
If you are on hormonal therapy you should be especially diligent having your mammograms. In other words taking these hormones can result with dense breast tissue either increasing or remaining the same.
Increase for Breast Cancer
Having dense breast affects your risk for breast cancer in two ways:
Breast density can form difficulty in seeing underlying cancer on your mammogram. Thus breast density presents a risk factor for breast cancer. More importantly cancers can be hidden in dense tissue, as well as possible tumors.
Due to difficulty of seeing a tumor or dense breast tissue on a mammogram, a small tumor could be missed. This is because breast density presents as a white area on a mammogram just like cancer. So, dense breast tissue can mask the detection of any cancer.
Meaning those having dense breast are at a higher risk to develop breast cancer compared to those without. The risk goes up with the more density in the breast. Thus raised concerns about what situations, when and how to offer more screening options.
Experts are not in agreement as to what additional test should be given, if it is done. Breast ultrasound and MRI can aid some breast cancers not being seen on a mammogram according to studies.
However, MRI and ultrasound both can show other detections that are not cancer. This can cause more test and biopsies that wouldn’t be necessary. In addition insurance may not pay these extra procedures which could raise the cost of healthcare.
Other Imaging for Dense Breast
An annual mammogram screening is recommended if over 40 years of age. This should be paid by your insurance as a preventive medicine screening. If you have dense breast you should be going for a special imaging of a tomosynthesis (aka 3D mammogram).
Consult your doctor as to how often you should to be screened for breast cancer and what tests are recommended. Depending on your personal risk your doctor may suggest additional test including more screening such as ultrasounds and MRIs.
Breast ultrasound is a machine adopting sound waves that assemble detailed images, named sonograms, of areas inside the breast.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) is a type of body scan utilizing a magnet connected to a computer. Thus MRI also creates detailed images of areas inside the breast.
Considering every woman and situation is different if you have dense breast work closely with your doctor. Most importantly stay up to date with your level of density.
To Diminish Dense Breast
There is currently no evidence that reducing breast density will reduce any risk for breast cancer. However, maintaining overall health is always a good choice.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes each day
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
- Eat healthy, plenty of cancer fighting foods; carrots, squash and sweet potatoes
- Avoid taking the birth control pill and hormonal replacement therapy
- Drink more green tea
- Decrease saturated fats (such as red meats, butter, ice cream, fatty cheese)
- Decrease sugars and refined carbohydrates
- Limit alcoholic beverages
Do your self-breast exam. Dense breast can sometimes feel lumpy which can form a harder time determining a mass. For example it is recommended to do your self-exam in a couple different positions:
- Standing in your shower
- Standing in front of your mirror
- Laying down relaxing
Certainly, any concern such as a discrete mass, a lump or any firmness should be discussed with your doctor.
Wrapping it up
The breasts hold different structures. Some are simply lumpier (fibrous). However this is common but should be watched.
Knowing whether you have dense or fatty tissue determines your mammogram screenings. Diagnosing between dense versus fatty can only be seen on a mammogram. Above all your density could put you at higher risk for breast cancer.
Do your monthly self-exams. You should have an intimate relationship with your breast where you could detect any changes. As a result keep up to date with screenings and follow ups.
Do you know which breast tissue you are?
Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.