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Breast Density

By New York and Connecticut state law, the Breast Density Inform bill requires clinicians to inform you, along with the results of your mammogram, about whether your breast tissue is dense.

Dense Breasts:  What you need to know

This brochure by The American College of Radiology has information on breast density and breast cancer screening.

Why is breast density important?
Dense breasts make it more difficult for doctors to spot cancer on mammograms. Dense tissue appears white on a mammogram. Lumps, both benign and cancerous, also appear white. So, mammograms can be less accurate in women with dense breasts. Also, having dense breast tissue may increase your risk of getting breast cancer. 

Also, there may be an increased risk of breast cancer linked to having dense breasts.  However this is only one more risk factor among many. 

Read about cancer risk analysis and
request an appointment with the Genetic Counselor

If I have dense breasts, do I still need a mammogram?
Yes. A mammogram is the only medical imaging screening test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if you have dense breast tissue.

Request a mammogram appointment at one of our Women's Imaging locations.

Are there any tests that are better than a mammogram for dense breasts?
In breasts that are dense, cancer can be hard to see on a mammogram. Studies have shown that ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find breast cancers that can't be seen on a mammogram.  However, both MRI and ultrasound, show more findings that are not cancer, which can result in added testing and unnecessary biopsies.  Also, the cost of ultrasound and MRI may not be covered by insurance.

What is breast density?
Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Your breasts are considered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat. Density may decrease with age, but there is little, if any, change in most women.

How do I know if I have dense breasts?
When you visit Northern Westchester Hospital's Breast Institute for your mammogram, the Radiologist will talk with you about your breast density. Breast density is determined by the Radiologist who reads your mammogram.

There are four categories of mammographic density. The radiologist assigns each mammogram to one of the categories. Or, speak with your doctor. Your doctor should be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on where you fall on the density scale:

Almost entirely fatty Scattered areas of fibroglandular density Heterogeneously dense Extremely dense


What should I do if I have dense breasts?
If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor. Together, you can decide which, if any, additional screening exams are right for you.

What if I don't have dense breasts?
If your breasts are not dense, other factors may still place you at increased risk for breast cancer — including a family history of the disease, previous chest radiation treatment for cancer and previous breast biopsies that show you are high risk. Talk to your doctor and discuss your history. 

Even if you are at low risk, and have entirely fatty breasts, you should still get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

Is it common to have dense breasts?
Among women in the US…

  • 10% are extremely dense
  • 10% are almost entirely fatty breasts
  • 80% are classified evenly in one of the two middle categories

The American Cancer Society, American College of Radiology (ACR), Society of Breast Imaging and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among others, recommend that all women have yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.  Women at high risk may benefi t from starting earlier.  Download ACR brochure about Breast Density

For more information, visit www.MammographySavesLives.org or www.RadiologyInfo.org.

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