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Breast Cancer Channel
Reported January 15, 2013

Cancer Risk Factor: Breaking Down Breast Density -- Blue Print

MAMMOGRAPHY: A mammogram is a tool used to screen women for breast cancer by taking x-ray pictures of the breasts. When a mammogram is done before signs or symptoms of breast cancer, it is called a screening mammogram. It recommended that women over the age of 40 get screening mammograms every one to two years because regular mammograms have shown to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in women between 40 and 70 years old. Mammograms that are performed after a lump or other sign of breast cancer have been found is called a diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms have more x-ray pictures of the breast than screening mammograms do, and they may also focus on and magnify the suspicious area or lump to help determine if a biopsy is necessary. (Source: www.cancer.gov)

RISKS: Risks associated with getting a mammogram are false-positives, false-negatives, over diagnosis and overtreatment, and radiation exposure. False-positives will sometimes happen if doctors believe the mammogram to be abnormal when no cancer is actually present. For women a false-positive can cause a lot of worry and anxiety, as well as unnecessary tests and biopsies being done. False-negatives, when a mammogram seems normal but cancer is actually present, can be harmful in that a person may not receive treatment until much later on because the cancer was unknown. Over diagnosis and overtreatment refer to cancer diagnoses that will actually never threaten a woman’s life, but they are treated for breast cancer all the same because doctors cannot tell a difference. The final risk, radiation exposure, is not very threatening. Although there is some radiation exposure during a mammogram, it is a very small amount and should not be harmful. The only time radiation exposure is cause for concern is if a person has repeated x-rays more often than usual. (Source: www.cancer.gov)

BREAST DENSITY: Breast density has been found to play a significant role in a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. Breast density is the amount of white area on a breast that is shown on a mammogram, and women with exceptionally high breast density have a three- to fivefold increase in their risk for breast cancer. Certain women will naturally have denser breasts than others. In general, white women have higher breast densities and breast density will decrease as a woman enters menopause. However, some women’s breast density continues to be high even after menopause and they are at a particularly high risk for breast cancer. It is not yet clear why breast density is related to a person’s risk of breast cancer, but there are currently studies aimed at finding a better method for assessing breast cancer risk using breast density. (Source: www.cancer.gov)

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How to Find a Qualified Mammography Provider

For the nearest FDA-certified mammography provider, or to check the status of your imaging center, call the NCI's CIS at (800) 4-CANCER.

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