Column: Do you know if you have dense breasts? Why it matters.

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Commentary by Dr. Erica Giblin

Do you know if you have dense breasts? Most women don’t know, unless they have had a screening mammogram report.

Dense breast tissue isn’t related to a woman’s overall body size, breast cup size or how ‘lumpy’ the breasts feel on self-breast exam. Breast tissue density is determined on the mammogram image.

So, what is breast density? The breasts are composed of fatty tissue and milk-duct gland tissue. Some women have mostly fatty tissue and some women have mostly milk-duct gland tissue. Those that have mostly fatty tissue do not have dense breasts. Those who have mostly milk-duct gland tissue do have dense breast tissue.

Dense breast tissue is extremely common. In fact, 50 percent of women who go for a screening mammogram have dense breast tissue. Indiana law requires women with dense breast tissue who undergo screening mammogram to receive a mammogram report informing them that they have dense breast tissue.

Why does this matter? Because the denser the breasts are, the harder it is for the mammogram to find a breast cancer hiding in the dense breast tissue. Mammograms can be less accurate in women with dense breasts because sometimes the breast tumors are indistinguishable from the dense breast tissue.  

What can be done about this? Find a better test to distinguish breast cancer from dense breast tissue.

Giblin

Abbreviated breast MRI (screening breast MRI), or AB-MRI, is a new, game-changing technology that improves breast cancer screening in women with dense breast tissue. AB-MRI is painless and quick – takes less than 10 minutes – and the results are superior to digital mammography. Compared to mammography, which detects 5 to 6 cancers per 1,000 patients, AB-MRI is an improvement that can detect 15 cancers per 1,000 patients.

Better tests mean better outcomes for patients. That’s why it matters.

Dr. Erica Giblin is the medical director of breast care services for St. Vincent with clinic locations at St. Vincent Carmel (317-582-9355) and St. Vincent Indianapolis (317-338-9300)

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