Dense breast tissue is up to four times more likely to develop breast cancer. However, a new study has shown that many women are unaware of the risks of breast density.
Dense breasts refer to breasts that are made up of more fibrous and glandular tissue compared to fatty tissue and can be detected during a mammogram.
The study, published on Jama Network Open on Jan. 23, surveyed 1,858 women ages 40 to 76 from 2019 to 2020 who had recently had a mammogram, had no history of breast cancer, and had heard of breast density.
It assessed women’s understanding of breast density as a significant risk of breast cancer compared to other well-known risk factors such as having a relative with breast cancer, being overweight or obese, drinking more than one drink alcoholic per day, never having children, and having a prior breast biopsy.
Despite breast density being associated with a 1.2 to four times greater risk of developing breast cancer, according to the study, few women perceived breast density as a strong personal risk factor. Instead, 93 percent of women saw family history as posing the greatest risk, followed by 65 percent of women who said being overweight or obese was a greater risk than breast density.
Of the 61 women interviewed, only six of them described breast density as contributing to breast cancer risk. Although most women correctly noticed that breast density could make mammograms difficult to read.
When asked what they could do to reduce their risk of breast cancer, around a third of the women said they were unsure whether it was possible to reduce their risk of breast cancer or didn’t know what actions they could take.
However, there are many actions people can take to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer. A breast screening, also known as a mammogram, is an x-ray image of the breast used to check women for breast cancer. A mammogram can detect invisible signs or symptoms of breast cancer that cannot be felt, or it can check for breast cancer after detecting a lump or other signs of breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 45 to 54 get a mammogram every year. Women ages 40 to 44 also have the option of starting early screening, and those ages 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every two years if they wish.
Nearly half of all women age 40 and older who get mammograms have dense breasts, according to the National Cancer Institute. Breast density is usually inherited, but it can also be found in younger women, who are taking hormone replacement therapy or have a lower body weight.
While breast density can make a mammogram difficult to interpret, a newer type of mammogram called digital breast tomosynthesis — or 3D mammography — has recently appeared to be more helpful in women with dense breasts.
Other studies have shown that imaging tests such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find some types of breast cancer that cannot be seen on mammograms. Experts have not yet strongly suggested that women with dense breasts should receive additional screening, as per the US Preventive Services Task Force’s Breast Cancer Screening Recommendation Statement.
People who have dense breasts should talk to their doctor about their personal risks of developing breast cancer.
This article was originally published on January 27, 2023.