print

Do Dense Breasts Inflate Cancer Risk?: March 10, 2013

It’s a subject near and dear to a women’s heart. Their breasts - and whether the density of tissue inflates their risk of breast cancer.

“Dense breast tissue is an issue that there’s been a lot talked about lately so I think that’s in everyone’s mind ‘well what is dense breast tissue; what does that mean’ - really what we are talking about is the ratio of fatty and fibro glandular elements within a particular patients breasts,” says Dr. Gail Santucci, diagnostic radiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Here’s what doctors see on a mammogram.

“The dark part is the fatty tissue and the little white strands are the fibro glandular tissue. In this women you see mostly a kind of dark, grayish, black so she is predominantly fatty replaced is how we would describe it and she’s our favorite candidate for screening because she has very small tissue. Tumors would show up very easily in a patient like this,” says Dr. Gail Santucci, diagnostic radiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Breast tissue breaks down into 4 categories based on their density. From predominately fatty to predominately dense. Studies found the roughly 10% of women with dense breasts have a 4-6 fold increased risk of cancer. And their makeup may make it harder to spot.

“Right. There have been studies looking at adding ultrasound in screening in women with dense breast tissue. They have shown that you can detect more cancers in those women by adding another modality, whether its ultrasound or MRI to the screening,” says Dr. Santucci.

Good news is, research finds these women don’t face a higher death risk than others with more fatty tissue. It does make one thing clear. The importance of vigilant monitoring.

“Absolutely, I think any attention to women’s health, particularly breast imaging is a positive thing. The more women are aware of this issue, the better decisions they can make,” says Dr. Santucci.