Dense Breast Tissue – Is It Something to Worry About?

November 12, 2012

Dense Breast Tissue - Is It Something to Worry About?

In a nutshell, dense breast tissue refers to a condition wherein there is more whiteness than grayness on a mammogram.

Mammograms: Whiteness vs. Grayness

The whiteness seen on a mammogram generally consists of ductal or glandular breast tissue and its fibrous supporting tissue, while the grayness consist of the breasts’ fatty parts. As women get older, their mammograms usually show more grayness than whiteness since they no longer need their milk ducts by that time.

Recent genetic research has shown that dense breast tissue is usually heritable. However, how the breasts feel don’t always correlate to the density of the tissue on imaging, so you won’t actually get to find out whether this feature is inherited until a a mammogram has been done.

Breast Tissue: Quantifying Its Density

So far, there is no way to universally measure the density of breast tissue, so it is usually expressed as a percentage of the breast area that is taken up by radiological dense tissue. Some people do suggest that it might be useful to keep track of the dense tissue’s percentage and total amount, though, since the density of a woman’s breasts is usually indirectly connected to her BMI, age and other changeable risk factors.

So, as of now, there is no perfect method to quantify the density of breast tissue – most of all because it relates to what women think about when they get a mammogram: their overall risk for breast cancer.

Dense breast tissue: A Sign of Breast Cancer?

Various studies have already revolved around this question and, although the relationship between the breasts’ physiology and their density still isn’t clear, it seems that dense breast tissue does not affect the chances of detecting breast cancer with a mammogram in a direct manner, most of all if you haven’t turned 50 yet.

However, dense breasts can make it harder for doctors to read mammography images, thus turning annual screenings in women in their forties into a less useful task. So, depending on your personality or your overall risk factors, you might want to steer clear of getting mammograms every year from now on and get them every three years before the age of 50 instead.

Breast Density: Can You Control It?

So, is it possible to get less dense breast tissue somehow? Sadly, the answer to this isn’t simple. Aging might help a little bit; so can childbearing. However, if you want a faster solution, but still have your period, you might want to get your mammograms right after your menstrual cycles. Since your hormone levels tend to be lower during those times, though, it might be much harder to schedule them in – keep that in mind.

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