What is Dense Breast Tissue?

24 Aug 2014 in

In early 2013, the state of California required medical imaging centers to inform women if they have dense breast tissue, as revealed in a screening mammogram. Since then, many of our patients have asked me what is dense breast tissue?

To help women better understand breast density, I recently participated in a question and answer format for an Asian-American media outlet. Please find a summary of the exchange below. What breast imaging topics would you like me to discuss in my next blog post?

What is Dense Breast Tissue?

“Dense breasts are not uncommon. Breasts are composed of fibroglandular and fatty tissues. Having dense breasts simply means that your breasts contain more than 50% of fibroglandular tissue as compared with fatty tissue. Approximately one-half of all women have dense breasts. You cannot tell if you have dense breasts by touching or feeling your breasts. Only mammography can determine whether you have dense breasts.”

What does having dense breasts mean in terms of cancer risk for Asian American women?

“Asian-American women with dense breasts may want to consider supplemental screening examinations for two reasons.

  • Dense breasts pose a mild risk factor for developing breast cancer.
  • Dense breast tissue can make cancers more difficult to detect on a mammogram.”

What are some options for women with dense breasts in terms of further screening?

“Mammogram remains the gold standard for breast screening for all women. There are two additional screening options for women with dense breasts. For women at high risk (personal or strong family history of breast cancer), the imaging option of choice is a screening breast MRI. For average risk women, we recommend screening breast ultrasound.”

Does health insurance cover additional screening?

“Health insurance ordinarily covers the cost of a screening MRI for patients who are at high enough risk for breast cancer. For women who do not qualify for insurance coverage, the option is to pay cash for the screening MRI or the screening ultrasound.”

Do you have any additional thoughts on breast density notification legislation?

“We believe the breast density bill has increased patient awareness. This will allow women to make more informed decisions regarding screening options and their breast health. Women with dense breasts may want to discuss supplemental breast cancer screening options with their physicians. Breast MRI and breast ultrasound can be performed in women with dense breast tissue to inspect for breast cancers that may not be visible with mammography.”


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