Did you see “dense breasts” on your mammogram and are wondering what in the heck this is or if it means a higher risk of breast cancer?
It’s also possible that you missed this notification on your mammogram results. Take a look again and see if it’s there.
Study: Alert on Mammogram of
Dense Breasts Is Confusing
and Most Women Do Not Know What to Do
• 58 women received dense breast notifications (DBNs) on their mammograms.
• Only 49 recalled this, however.
• 30 women (average age 55) completed a follow-up phone survey about the “dense breasts” note on their mammograms, having remembered this alert.
• None of the women in this Boston University study mentioned details pertaining to the degree of density or how to get further information.
What should you do if you see a “dense breast” note on your mammogram? Google it and be discerning about which site you visit for more information. But don’t panic.
In my case, the technician told me my breasts were very dense as she was showing me the images on the computer (I’m not sure she was supposed to do that, and I also had not even asked; she simply just did it).
I never looked at the report. This was the first time I’d ever heard of such a thing—from a medical standpoint.
Sure, many women might think breasts are “dense” when they are very firm and naturally uplifted, but from a medical standpoint, appearance does not indicate degree of density or lack of it.
“This single-center study suggests that notifications can generate confusion,” says the report, “without increasing awareness about the clinical and radiological risks of breast density.”
What’s the issue with dense breasts anyways?
• “Women with dense breasts may be at increased risk of developing cancer,” says the report, “so it is crucial to explain the importance of annual screening, including discussing personal risk.”
• The dense tissue makes it more challenging for radiologists to visually detect suspicious masses, as both the tissue and tumors appear very similar on the image.
Mammograms are less sensitive to showing suspicious masses in dense breasts.
Dense Breasts and Cancer
Beginning in 2009, 30 U.S. states have mandated written DBNs on mammogram results. This is because dense breast tissue means a higher risk of cancer.
It seems intuitive that a woman with a DBN immediately seek counsel with her gynecologist.
However, you may not want to stop there, because not all gynecologists are on board with the association between dense breasts and cancer.
The radiologist who interpreted one of my ultrasound results (which were normal) told me that it was “overboard” for women with dense breasts to undergo supplemental screening ultrasounds.
But I’d had, up to that point, done a lot of homework on this, and she was not the least bit convincing.
Even if there were no increased risk of breast cancer, one thing is very certain: Benign dense tissue can obscure a tumor. Or, a tumor can masquerade as benign dense tissue.
In the study, most of the 30 women found the DBN to be “too clinical or vague.”
“The lack of specific information created confusion and some felt that the notification did not provide sufficient explanation,” says the report.
Six of the women thought that the notification meant a breast cancer diagnosis. But remember this: A mammogram does NOT diagnose a malignancy.
Rather, a radiologist detects a suspicious mass on the image. The mass may be benign. Only a biopsy of the mass can determine if it’s malignant.