The Little-Known Breast Cancer Risk You Should Know About

This post is sponsored by Pink Breast Centers. This is Part 4 of a four-part series encouraging women to get screened for breast cancer in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Read Part 1Part 2 or Part 3.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Stay up to date by educating yourself about breast density. 

Approximately half of all women younger than 50 – and one-third of women over 50 – often don’t know they have a hidden health danger: dense breasts. These women are at higher risk for breast cancer. 

“You could be one of them,” Lisa Sheppard, MD, a breast radiologist with ImageCareRadiology (which has diagnostic imaging centers throughout New Jersey)warns. “So, don’t be dense about breast density.”

Here are some facts that can save your life or the life of a loved one. 

Fact #1: Breast density describes the relative amount of different types of breast tissue – glandular, connective and fat tissue – seen on your mammogram. Dense breasts have relatively high amounts of glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue and relatively low amounts of fatty breast tissue.

Fact #2: When you have a mammogram, your radiologist further classifies your breast tissue as fatty (non-dense), scattered fibroglandular tissue, heterogeneously dense or very dense. Having heterogeneously dense and dense pattern classifications makes it difficult for mammograms to detect cancer. 

Fact #3: Research has found women with very dense breasts have a four-to-five times greater risk of developing breast cancer compared to women with non-dense breasts. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to lower the density of your breasts. 

Fact #4: If you have dense breasts, a mammogram is your greatest defense against cancer.  Breast density can only be determined by a mammogram. It cannot be determined by a physical exam or any other test.  

Fact #5:  The denser your breasts are, the harder it is for a radiologist to “see” a cancer on your mammogram. That’s because cancers typically appear as small white spots on the mammogram. In dense breasts, the background is mostly white, which makes it difficult to detect white cancerous cells. The challenge of detecting a small cancer in a dense breast is comparable to finding a snowman in a snowstorm.

Fact #6: To find cancers early, women with dense breasts need an additional annual screening evaluation such as a breast ultrasound or MRI. Talk to your doctor about the benefits of having this extra diagnostic test in your screening plan. 

Fact #7: It’s important you know your breast density so you can request this extra surveillance.  Ask your radiologist or doctor what your density is so you know if you need a screening ultrasound or MRI to protect yourself from advanced cancer. And, read your official mammography report to stay further aware. 

Fact #8: In the State of New Jersey, if you have heterogeneously dense or extremely dense breasts, you have the right to have a mammogram and a screening ultrasound every year. 

Fact #9: Mammograms are 100% paid for by insurance. If you don’t have insurance, you may be eligible for a free or discounted screening. 

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