What Does It Mean to Have Dense Breast Tissue?

Having dense breasts is a big risk factor for developing breast cancer. But a lot of women are unsure about what this means. Do you know whether you have dense breast tissue? Here’s a guide that will increase your understanding of dense breast tissue and combat some common misconceptions.

What are Dense Breasts?

Everyone has two types of breast tissue: fatty breast tissue and dense breast tissue. If you have “dense” breasts, it means that you have more fibrous tissue than fatty tissue. On the other hand, if you have less fibrous and fattier tissue, then you have “fatty” breasts.

Somewhere around 50% of women have dense breast tissue. However, not all dense or fatty breasts are created equal—there’s a spectrum. There are four total categories of types of breasts based on tissue ranging from breasts that are almost entirely fatty tissue to breasts that are made almost entirely of dense breast tissue.

Are Dense Breasts the Same Thing as Firm Breasts?

While you may think that you can feel the difference between fatty and dense tissue, your conclusions may not always true. Just because your breasts are especially firm does not necessarily mean you have dense breasts. Some people also believe that having large breasts means they are more likely to have dense breasts, but this is also false.

How Do I Find Out if I Have Dense or Fatty Breast Tissue?

You probably won’t know that you have mostly dense breast tissue until you get a mammogram. When you and your doctor look at the pictures from your mammogram, the dense breast tissue will look white on the scans. Fatty breast tissue, on the other hand, shows up darker on the mammogram results.

When Are Dense Breasts a Problem?

The problem occurs when radiologists can’t see signs of cancerous lesions due to the dense tissue. On your mammogram results, cancerous lesions will appear white, just like dense breast tissue. Because of this, it can be harder for radiologists to see or notice signs of cancer in dense breasts.

Essentially, it’s easier for cancer to hide in dense breast tissue. If you have dense breasts, you are at a greater risk of getting false negative mammogram results. If you go in for a mammogram and discover you have dense breast tissue, you will probably have to get some follow-up tests to ensure your results are as accurate as they can be. A digital mammogram is best at detecting breast cancer, especially in the midst of a lot of dense breast tissue. Research is still being done on other types of mammograms, such as 3-D mammograms, to see if they might be more effective than traditional mammograms at catching cancer in dense breasts.

In many states, radiologists are required by law to notify their patients by letter if they discover that they have dense breast tissue. Unfortunately, these letters are often full of jargon and difficult to understand. If you receive such a letter, make sure you talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about any questions you have regarding the risks associated with your denser breasts.

What Risk Factors are Associated with Dense Breasts?

Medical professionals aren’t sure why dense breasts are such a strong risk factor for breast cancer, but they do know that cancer itself tends to form in the densest areas of breast tissue. There are some specific risk factors that give you a greater risk of having dense breasts.

These include:

  • Never having been pregnant
  • Being pregnant for the first time above age thirty-five
  • Undergoing hormone therapy such as estrogen and progesterone combination therapy
  • Having a lower body mass index (BMI)
  • Being premenopausal
  • Breastfeeding your children

Simply being a younger woman also increases your likelihood of having dense breasts. Research suggests having dense breasts is a genetic trait. Thus, if your mother, grandmother, or other women in your family have dense breasts, there’s a good chance you do, too.

There are also certain medications with hormones in them that can make a woman’s breast tissue denser. One such medication is menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). If you have dense breasts, you may also be at greater risk for developing cancer in both of your breasts.

Can I Change My Breasts to Become Less Dense?

As women age, their breasts typically become less dense. Any major hormonal changes your body undergoes could change the density of your breasts. There are certain medications that can cause your breasts to become less dense, such as tamoxifen. Really the only thing you can do to decrease your breast density is to gain weight. That isn’t a good idea, though, because even though your breasts will not be as dense, gaining weight increases your risk of developing breast cancer. As you get older, your breasts will also decrease in density, but older women are more likely to develop breast cancer than younger women.

Remember that even if your mammogram results show that you have dense breasts, you are not bound to develop breast cancer. Breast cancer is complicated, and there are many other factors aside from having dense breast tissue that will make you more likely to develop breast cancer. Some of the causes of breast cancer are still a mystery, even to the medical community.

The only way to know for sure if you have breast cancer is to get a diagnosis from a medical professional. MagView’s cutting-edge Mammography Information Systems will provide you with a first class patient experience, streamlined design, an accredited reporting system, and state-of-the-art data retrieval and calculation that give you the clarity and peace of mind you need.

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