Dense breasts raise breast cancer risk, but many women aren’t aware of it — here’s what to know

Most ladies are conscious {that a} household historical past of breast most cancers will increase their danger of the illness, however far fewer perceive that extraordinarily dense breasts can pose a better danger.

A survey printed Monday within the journal JAMA Community Open discovered that of practically 1,900 girls who participated, the bulk noticed breast density as a much less consequential danger issue than household historical past.

However girls with extraordinarily dense breasts, that are characterised by minimal fatty tissue, face a danger of breast most cancers 4 occasions increased than girls with the bottom breast densities, in line with the examine. About 10% of ladies who get mammograms have this degree of breast density. By comparability, having a mom, sister or daughter who’s had breast most cancers is related to double the danger of the illness.

Girls who’ve a considerable quantity of dense breast tissue however to not an excessive diploma — about 40% of those that get mammograms — have a 20% increased danger of breast most cancers relative to these with common breast density, in line with the examine.

That’s barely decrease than the danger related to having a glass of wine each night, in line with Dr. Phoebe Freer, chief of breast imaging on the College of Utah’s Huntsman Most cancers Institute, who wasn’t concerned within the survey.

“Everyone has a distinct quantity of fibroglandular tissue and a distinct sample,” Freer stated, referring to dense breast tissue. “It’s virtually like a affected person’s fingerprint.”

The one option to inform when you’ve got dense breasts is by way of a mammogram, which docs generally recommend each one or two years for ladies beginning of their 40s or 50s.

The Meals and Drug Administration proposed a rule in 2019 that will require mammography amenities to tell sufferers about their breast density and its significance. In October, the FDA said it was optimistic that the ultimate rule can be printed by early 2023.

Thirty-eight states already require suppliers to provide girls details about breast density after a mammogram, however not all of them require suppliers to inform a girl if she herself has dense breasts.

A woman leaves a mammography mobile screening bus in Anaheim, Calif.
A girl leaves a mammography cellular screening bus in Anaheim, Calif. on Oct. 17, 2016.Mindy Schauer / Digital First Media/Orange County Register by way of Getty Photos file

Since dense breasts are frequent, docs could inadvertently downplay the dangers, stated Christine Gunn, a researcher on the Dartmouth Institute for Well being Coverage and Medical Observe, who performed the JAMA analysis.

“There are loads of conversations with major care docs the place they are saying, ‘That is regular.’ For some girls, it interprets to, ‘Oh, I don’t have to fret about that,'” Gunn stated.

In particular person interviews as a part of Gunn’s survey, six out of 61 girls stated dense breasts contributed to breast most cancers danger. 

There are two causes dense breasts are linked to the next danger of breast most cancers.

First, the composition of the breast may predispose individuals to most cancers. The explanations for that aren’t clear, however scientists suspect that most cancers is extra more likely to develop in fibroglandular tissue, which is exclusive to the breast, versus fatty tissue, which is discovered all through the physique.

Second, as a result of girls with extraordinarily dense breasts have virtually all fibroglandular tissue, it is more durable to detect cancerous plenty or calcium deposits on a mammogram. That makes it simpler for most cancers to develop or unfold undetected somewhat than being noticed and handled early.

Checking for most cancers in a affected person with dense breasts is like trying to find a white spot on a white wall, in line with Dr. Melissa Durand, an affiliate professor on the Yale College of Drugs Division of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging.

Durand defined that each fibroglandular tissue and most cancers present up white on a mammogram, whereas fatty tissue exhibits up black.

“In a totally fatty breast — so tons and plenty of black on the mammogram — we could be as correct as 98%,” she stated. “However our sensitivity can drop actually low — in some research, even as little as 30% — when you’ve got an especially, extraordinarily dense breast.”

Radiologists stated the best kind of mammogram, particularly for ladies with dense breasts, is a digital breast tomosynthesis, which is commonly higher at detecting most cancers than commonplace mammograms.

From there, docs may advocate an ultrasound or MRI. Girls with dense breasts ought to in all probability get supplemental screenings annually, radiologists stated.

Ultrasounds are secure and comparatively cheap, however Freer stated they’ll miss most cancers or present false positives, which could be complicated for sufferers. MRIs are essentially the most delicate possibility, however to get insurance coverage corporations to cowl the fee, sufferers normally want to point out further danger components, reminiscent of a genetic mutation or household historical past of breast most cancers.

“The extra typically you get screened, the extra probably you might be to be referred to as again for added imaging,” Freer stated. “It does create some anxiousness and it undoubtedly takes time. Most sufferers are prepared to endure that danger with the intention to get the life-saving profit.”

Girls cannot change their breast density, however it might probably shift with age.

“Usually, youthful girls could have denser breasts,” Durand stated. “As we age, similar to different elements of our our bodies, we purchase extra fats, so your breast tissue can get extra fatty tissue in it.”

To decrease one’s danger of breast most cancers total, docs advocate limiting alcohol consumption, exercising commonly and sustaining a nutritious diet. The Breast Most cancers Surveillance Consortium affords an online tool to assist individuals gauge their breast most cancers danger based mostly on a number of components, together with breast density. 


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