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What Does It Mean to Have Dense Breasts?

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October 08, 2020

Dense breast tissue is not abnormal; it is very common. Nearly half of women who undergo screening mammography have dense breast tissue.

Breast density reflects the amount of fibrous and glandular tissue in your breasts compared with the amount of fatty tissue, as seen on a mammogram. Breast density is a mammographic finding determined by a radiologist. There are 2 significant health-related concerns when you have dense breasts.

  • Women with dense breasts have a 2x-6x higher risk of breast cancer compared to women without dense breast tissue.
  • Breast cancer is more difficult to detect on a mammogram if you have dense breast tissue.

Women with dense breast tissue may benefit from additional supplemental screening exams, such as screening breast ultrasound or breast MRI.

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The Women’s Cancer Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center focuses on breast and gynecologic cancers, providing specialized care to women.

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Standardized breast density reporting

While many states already had laws that required breast density reporting, the Food and Drug Administration in February 2019 made such reporting mandatory. The FDA did this to establish a national standard for breast density reporting due to the increased health risks for women with dense breast tissue. The law ensures that mammography reports received by patients and their healthcare providers include:

  • Assessment of the patient’s breast density by the radiologist
  • Explanation that dense breast tissue can mask breast cancer on a mammogram
  • Information that patients should discuss breast density with their provider

Nationally, we have made improvements in how we inform patients when they have dense breast tissue. Frequently, however, patients don’t know what to do with the information. Understandably, they often have a lot of questions about breast density and supplemental screening that require some expertise on the subject.

Expert dense breast care

At The University of Kansas Health System and The Women’s Cancer Center, we have long recognized the need for a comprehensive visit with a breast expert to educate women on what it means to have dense breast tissue. We understand the importance of breast density and always work to ensure women have access to a provider who can answer important questions and provide additional screening exams.

During October, which is nationally recognized as breast cancer awareness month, we launched a specialized dense breast program. The program helps women who have dense breast tissue understand their risk, what it means to have dense breast tissue, and what their screening and follow-up care should look like. In addition to providing patient education, one of our breast care specialists may perform a clinical breast exam and provide orders for supplemental screening exams if needed.

We offer screening ultrasound to all women with dense breast tissue as well as a newer exam called abbreviated breast MRI. Breast MRI is our best test for detecting breast cancer. However, it is not always available to women due to its prohibitive cost and lengthy exam time.

Abbreviated breast MRI is a much faster exam, less than 10 minutes, and much more affordable than traditional breast MRI. Making it more accessible means more women can benefit. The women most likely to benefit from supplemental screening are those who have a high lifetime risk of breast cancer and women with dense breast tissue.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our dense breast experts or want more information, call 913-588-1227.

Schedule your mammogram.

We find early-stage breast cancer at a rate that exceeds the national benchmark. Schedule your mammogram online today or call 913-588-1227.

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