September 29, 2017

All Breasts Are Not the Same – Do You Know Your Breast Density?

By Rachel Raab, MD

Did you know that women with dense breast tissue are at 4-6 times higher risk of developing breast cancer?

The breast consists of fat and breast tissue as well as connective tissue that holds everything together. Breast density is a measure used to describe the proportion of these different tissues. It is not something that can be determined by breast exam but only by mammogram.

High breast density means that there is increased breast and connective tissue compared to fat. Low breast density means that there is increased fat compared with breast and connective tissue.

Mammographic sensitivity for detecting breast cancer ranges from 90-95 percent in the low-density (fatty) category of breast tissue. Conversely, in women at the other end of the spectrum with extremely dense breast tissue, the sensitivity of mammography is only 40-50 percent.

The good news is that 3D tomosynthesis mammography technology has evolved in recent years to become a preferred diagnostic tool for women with dense breasts. This type of mammography takes pictures from different angles allowing doctors to virtually see “through” breast tissue.

Working in tandem with a mammogram, 3D tomosynthesis mammography offers a better chance for women with dense breasts to be diagnosed with breast cancer at an early, more treatable stage.

The benefits to early detection of breast cancer include both a better prognosis, meaning a higher chance for a cure, as well as more treatment choices.

When it comes to breast cancer, it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been touched by the disease. Whether it’s a sister, mother, friend or neighbor, the prevalence of it is undeniable. Breast cancer will affect 1 in 8 women in their lifetime and is the leading cause of death in women (second only to lung cancer).

That’s why it is so important that 3D tomosynthesis mammography is leading to earlier detection and better outcomes.

Rachel Raab, MD, is a medical oncologist with Cancer Care of Western North Carolina and director of the Mission Breast Program.

To schedule an exam, call Mission Breast Center at 828-213-XRAY (9729).