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Monday, July 23, 2012 - What is breast density?

Breast density refers to the amount of fat and tissue in the breast as seen on a mammogram. A dense breast has more tissue than fat. Younger women usually have dense breasts. As women get older, their breasts become less dense. After menopause, breast tissue of most women is replaced by fat. Some older women who use postmenopausal hormones may have higher breast density, though, until they stop using hormones.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


Why is breast density important?

Women with dense breasts have an increased risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know why breast density is related to breast cancer. Research is ongoing.


Screening for women with dense breasts

Dense breasts make it difficult to detect breast cancer on a mammogram. Dense breast tissue can look white or light gray on a mammogram and cancer can also look white or light gray. As a result, mammograms may not be as effective in women with dense breasts. Mammograms are most effective when the breast has more fat than breast tissue, making the mammograms of most postmenopausal women easier to interpret.


Mammogram images can be stored on film (standard mammography) or on a computer (digital mammography). For women with dense breasts, digital mammography may be better than film mammography. Tumors in women with dense breasts may be easier to find with digital mammography than with film mammography. A digital mammogram can be lightened, darkened or enlarged, possibly showing tumors that would otherwise be hidden. Digital mammogram images can also be sent to other locations for evaluation. In the future, new technology may provide better imaging of dense breasts. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in combination with mammography, is currently under study as a breast cancer screening tool for women with dense breasts.


Source: ©2012 Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Item No. KOMEED084200 1/12