Dense Breast Tissue
Dense breast tissue is very common. Nearly half of women age 40 and older who undergo screening mammography have dense breast tissue.
Breast density is determined by the amount of fibrous and glandular tissue in your breasts compared with the amount of fatty tissue, as seen on a mammogram. Breast density is a mammographic finding determined by a radiologist.
Dense breast tissue causes
Dense breast tissue can vary based on a woman’s age and weight. Breast density can be inherited, but it can also be caused by other factors, such as:
- Low body mass index. Women with less body fat are more likely to have dense breast tissue compared to women who are obese.
- Age. Breast tissue becomes less dense as you age, though some women may have dense breast tissue at any age.
- Treatments, like menopausal hormone therapy. Women who take hormone therapy to relieve signs and symptoms of menopause are more likely to have dense breasts.
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding. Breast tissue is involved in milk production, which can make your breasts denser.
Dense breast tissue care
Women with dense breasts have 2x-6x higher risk of breast cancer compared to women without dense breast tissue, and breast cancer is more difficult to detect on a mammogram. The denser the breasts are, the higher the risk. Women with dense breast tissue may benefit from additional supplemental screening exams, such as:
- Screening breast ultrasound, which involves a machine that uses sound waves to make detailed pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast.
- Abbreviated breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an exam that lasts less than 10 minutes and is much more affordable than traditional breast MRI.
Why choose us for dense breast tissue care
We are one of the only health systems in the region that provides specialized care for women with dense breast tissue. Our program helps women who have dense breast tissue understand their risk, what it means to have dense breast tissue and what their screening and follow-up care should look like. In addition to providing patient education, one of our breast care specialists may perform a clinical breast exam and provide orders for supplemental screening exams if needed.
If you think you have dense breast tissue and may benefit from a supplemental ultrasound screening, talk with your physician. Ask if your mammogram indicated you have dense tissue. We offer consultations with our dense breast tissue experts.
Frequently asked questions about dense breast tissue
Breast tissue is comprised of glandular and connective tissue, or a combination of milk ducts and supporting tissue, and fat. When the breasts have more glandular and connective tissue than fat, they are defined as dense.
When viewed on a mammogram, dense breasts have more dense breast tissue than fatty tissue. Breasts than are not dense look dark and transparent. Dense breast tissue looks solid and white, which makes it difficult to see through on a mammogram.
Dense breast tissue cannot be felt in a clinical breast exam or a self-breast exam. Only a mammogram can show if a woman has dense breasts.
Breast density is determined on the mammogram and can usually be found in the radiologist's interpretation of the mammogram. Your primary care physician, who gets this report, should have this information. If not, it can be obtained from the facility that performed your mammogram.
Be informed. In addition to an increased risk of breast cancer, your mammogram is more likely to be less accurate in detecting cancer. You may want to consider another screening exam in addition to mammography, such as an ultrasound. We have seen an increased breast cancer detection rate by combining breast ultrasound with mammography in screening patients for cancer with dense breasts. We are one of the only healthcare facilities in the region that offers dense breast screening.