Dense Breasts = Higher Cancer Risk


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — About one in eight Americans will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of his or her lifetime. As of January 2021, there are more than 3.8 million people with a history of breast cancer in the U.S. Now, Ivanhoe has details on how dense or fibrocystic breasts might affect your risks and what that means for the future of screening.

Dense breasts … nearly half of all women have them, but what does that mean for your health? The reality is having dense breasts raises your risk for breast cancer by two to four times.

“It just makes it more difficult for the radiologist to pick up any smaller tumor, if it’s present there,” stated Tricia Morino, DO, a medical oncologist and hematologist at Hackensack Meridian Health.

So, what can be done to spot cancer? The first option for dense breast cancer screening is 3D mammography or typography that images one millimeter ‘slices’ of a breast at a time giving the radiologist 90 to 100 pictures to meticulously analyze for cancer through the dense tissue. Another way?

“Sometimes if a woman goes for her mammogram and the radiologist notes that her breasts are dense, they may recommend an ultrasound screening test,” continued Dr. Morino.

Which provides a 360-degree picture of the breast tissue. The last test is an MRI with the breasts hanging through metal coils that help pick up the magnetic signal. These methods can be lifesaving for patients whose cancer would otherwise go undetected.

Even though you can’t feel the difference, self-exams remain the same. There is no one right way breasts should feel, so it’s important to figure out what is normal for you to better notice any changes or differences.

Contributors to this news report include: Sabrina Broadbent, Producer; and Roque Correa, Editor.

REPORT #2841

BACKGROUND: Breast cancer cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump and occurs almost entirely in women. Non-cancerous breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside of the breast and are not life threatening. However, some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked to determine if it is benign or malignant. Once a biopsy is done, breast cancer cells are tested for proteins called estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and HER2. The tumor cells are also closely looked at in the lab to find out what grade it is. The specific proteins found and the tumor grade can help decide treatment options.


DENSE BREASTS AND CANCER RISKS: Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of developing breast cancer. However, you aren’t necessarily high risk just because you have dense breasts. Other risk factors include age, family history, and any history of breast biopsies showing atypical cells or other changes. Having dense breasts is not a medical condition itself and does not cause symptoms. You can’t tell whether or not you have dense tissue just by feeling the breasts. Dense breast tissue can only be seen on a mammogram. Fatty tissue appears dark whereas dense tissue appears white. For about half of women, screening mammograms reveal they have breast tissue that is categorized as dense. Dense breasts make it harder for radiologists to detect breast cancers when they read a mammogram because cancers typically show up as small white spots or masses as does dense breast tissue. So, small areas of cancer can hide behind the dense tissue making it challenging to tell the difference between normal, healthy tissue and abnormal growths.


NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR SCREENING: A study managed by the American College of Radiology (ACR) Center for Research and Innovation is comparing contrast-enhanced spectral mammography (CESM) to other screening technologies used for dense breasts. CESM is similar to traditional mammography, but before having the usual x-ray, a woman is injected with a special iodine-based contrast agent that highlights abnormal areas on the image more clearly. Cancerous tumors typically create new blood vessels when they form, and this contrast agent can reveal that increased blood flow which alerts the radiologist to a potential cancer. Research has found that CESM has raised cancer detection rates in dense breast tissue by as much as 70% to 80% compared with traditional screening. It’s not clear whether this technology is better at finding cancers in dense breasts than the more typical approaches of digital breast tomosynthesis (which creates a three-dimensional image of the breast) and whole breast ultrasound.


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Anne Green

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