What is dense breast tissue?
The breasts are dense when they have more non-fatty tissue and less fatty tissue in comparison with normal breasts. The thickness of tissue on a mammogram is one way to find out and measure the density of breast tissue. Dense breast tissue can’t be indentified by your self-examination or by your doctor’s physical examination. There is a possibility that you will have dense breast tissue if your mother has it too, because this pathology can be inherited.
How to determine the level of density of breast tissue?
Breast tissue is consist of milk ducts, milk glands and dense breast tissue (supportive tissue), and non-dense breast tissue (fatty tissue). Women with dense breasts have less fatty tissue than dense tissue when viewed on a mammogram.
On a mammogram, non-dense breast tissue appears transparent and dark, while dense breast tissue appears as a white solid area on a mammogram, which makes it difficult to see through.
The ratio of non-dense tissue to dense tissue and the level of breast density are determined by the doctor who analyzes your mammogram.
The levels of density are next:
- “Almost entirely fatty” means that the breasts are almost entirely consist of fat.
- “Scattered areas of fibroglandular density” means that the majority of the breast tissue is non-dense, but there are some scattered areas of density.
- “Heterogeneously dense” means that the majority of the breast tissue is dense, but there are some areas of non-dense tissue.
- “Extremely dense” means that nearly all of the breast tissue is dense.
Generally, a woman is considered to have dense breasts if her breasts are classified as extremely dense or heterogeneously dense. About half of women, who have undergone mammogram test, have dense breasts.
What causes dense breast tissue?
The studies haven’t yet found the reasons why some women don’t have a lot of dense breast tissue and others do.
Next categories of women are likely to have dense breast:
- Women in the age of 40-50 years old. Breast tissue tends to be less dense with age; it means that some women can have dense breast tissue at any age.
- Dense breast tissue is a frequent phenomenon in premenopausal women.
- Women who follow the hormone therapy in order to reduce symptoms and sings of menopause are more likely to have dense breast tissue.
How does dense breast tissue influence the breast cancer?
The risk of breast cancer increases if you have dense breast tissue. The chance of cancer is high because it can be undetected by a mammogram, because a potential cancer can hide behind dense breast tissue. It’s more difficult to identify dense breast tissue from cancer because both of them appear in white color on a mammogram. The risk that cancer will not be recognized on a mammogram at all is high in case of very dense breasts. It’s easier to discover the cancer after a recent usual mammogram in women with very fatty breasts, while breast cancer can be undetected in women with very dense breast tissue.
Researchers have found that women with dense breast have a four to six times greater risk of having a breast cancer because dense breast tissue make mammograms more difficult to descry. Another point is that cancer appears in the ducts and lobes and women with dense breasts have a higher proportion of lobes and ducts and, consequently, they have a higher risk. But this information is unproved, because this concept is still studied by researchers.
Which steps you can take to reduce the risk of cancer?
Dense breast tissue means that you should choose right lifestyle that will help you to lower the risk of cancer as much as possible. You should:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Do exercises regularly
- Limit alcohol
- Eat nutritious food
- Not smoke (or quit smoking if you do)
Women should discuss with their doctors the degree of breast density and cancer risks. The tests such as ultrasound or MRI may sometimes be more useful than a mammogram in testing a woman who has very dense breast tissue. If a woman takes the preparations of hormone therapy – she should ask her doctor about this, because there is evidence that cancer risk can be increased by hormones.