What Does It Even Mean To Have Dense Breasts?


If you’re someone who practices breast self-awareness (BSA)—which should be every woman—then you’re likely ahead of many women when it comes to breast cancer prevention (kudos to you!).

While BSA is a great way to become familiar with what’s normal for your breasts—their size, shape and how they feel—it can’t exactly determine breast density (even though it seems like the kind of thing you should be able to sense). The only way to really know your breast density is with a mammogram.

So does that mean that you shouldn’t worry about it until you have your first screening? Not necessarily. Even if you don’t know their density, it’s still important to know what it can mean for your breast health now, and in the future. After all, it’s estimated that over 50% of U.S. women have dense breasts.

Here’s what you need to know:

What exactly is breast density?

It describes the different kinds of tissue found in your breasts, which includes fat, connective tissue, and milk ducts and lobules that together are called glandular tissue. A woman with dense breasts has a higher amount of glandular and connective tissue and a lower amount of fatty tissue.

Who is most likely to have dense breasts?

Breast density and size are often thought to go hand-in-hand. However, contrary to popular belief, breast density is often higher in women who have smaller breasts. It’s also important to note that breast density is far more common in younger women due to the natural process of losing density with age.

Why does breast density matter?

On its own, breast density doesn’t sound like anything too serious. However, when you consider the fact that having dense breasts can make you 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer; it becomes one of the most important factors of breast health.

Current statistics estimate that as many as 1/3 of women diagnosed with breast cancer had dense breasts. Even with alarming numbers like these, experts still don’t necessarily know why breast density impacts breast cancer risk.

Now let’s be clear, though, having dense breast tissue doesn’t mean that developing breast cancer is inevitable.

How will I know if I have dense breasts?

The thought of going to get a mammogram for the first time can be nerve-wracking enough, let alone preparing for the results afterward—especially if you don’t fully understand what they mean. Typically, when you receive your mammogram results, your breast density will be classified into one of the following groups:

·         Almost entirely fat (about 1 in 10 women)

·         Some dense areas: scattered areas of dense glandular and connective tissue (about 2 in 5 women)

·         Many dense areas: numerous areas of glandular and connective tissue (about 2 in 5 women)

·         Extremely dense: almost all glandular and connective tissue and little fat (about 1 in 10 women)

Furthermore, it’s important to remember that if you have dense breasts, this can make screening procedures, like digital mammograms, more challenging. That’s because abnormal growths and lumps don’t show up as clearly amongst dense tissue versus fatty tissue. But with new screening technology, like tomosynthesis, a form of 3D mammography, screening can be more effective than ever for women with dense breast tissue.

Should I get additional screenings?

The best place to start is by talking with your primary care provider. As the health expert that knows you, your family history and your overall health needs best, they can help to identify the best preventative and screening options for you.

For additional information and expert guidance, you can turn to the experts of GMC’s Gwinnett Breast Program. With the very best technological, diagnostic and treatment options available, you can count on GMC to provide an unmatched level of care at every stage of the healing process.

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