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Mammography - Dense Breast Tissue Concerns

Updated on December 27, 2019
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

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Mammogram Overview

Every woman must decide when or if they will have a diagnostic mammogram. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 260,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, and more than 40,920 died of this disease. There have been advances in breast cancer detection with the increased use of 3-D digital screening, along with more uniform breast density reporting.

A mammogram is considered the first step in detecting breast cancers and treating them early. Making a decision on having a mammogram before the age of 50 is an individual one. Many women have a biennial screening between the ages of 40 to 49 and biennial mammograms for women of normal risk is encouraged between the ages of 50 to 74. The USPSTF (U.S. Preventative Services) concluded that there is no evidence of benefit or harm in testing women over the age of 75 years. In addition, breast cancer does occur in men, typically between the ages of 60 to 70 years of age.

Women between the ages of 60 to 69 are in the most important age range to have mammograms and to avoid death from breast cancer. Women with a sibling, parent or child with breast cancer should start their screenings in their 40s. While the mammogram may reduce death from breast cancer for women from 40 to 49 years the number of false-positives also increase, so further screening and biopsies increase and may cause harm.

New Treatment Helps Women Live Longer with Breast Cancer

Dense Breast Tissue

Approximately 40% of women have dense breast tissue and 10% of those have extremely dense tissue, which makes cancer cells more difficult to detect. The dense breast tissue actually masks small growths. This breast tissue is a risk factor for developing cancer. Earlier this year a U.S. law was passed that requires mammogram reports to include an assessment of the density of a woman’s breast tissue, and it must also include an explanation if the mammogram results are difficult to interrupt.

There is a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that provides data to suggest that women with dense breast tissue should have an MRI. However, there is some concern about women having an MRI as some of the “cancers” identified are actually in a precancerous stage. This is a growth called ductal carcinoma in situ, which means it may not grow or progress into a disease. If the MRI reveals these growths it may lead to overdiagnosis, thus over-treatment. Biopsies may be ordered.

Another large study in Denmark found that one quarter to one third of the breast tumors diagnosed in women who had an MRI were over-diagnosed and many of the irregularities found were not the type of tumors that causes a health problem, let alone death. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has concluded there is not enough evidence to advise women about the harm or the benefits of testing beyond a mammogram.

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Risk Factors

The American Cancer Society lists risk factors of breast cancer, as follows:

  • Being born female
  • Getting older, especially over 55 years of age
  • Inheriting a gene from a parent that causes breast cancer, which accounts for 5% to 10% of breast cancers
  • Inheriting the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, as it increases the risk to 7 in 10 for getting breast cancer and at a younger age also
  • Women who have 2 to 3 or more alcoholic drinks daily are at a 20% higher risk
  • Being obese after menopause if they gained the weight as an adult is a risk
  • Sedentary lifestyle after menopause (recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise)
  • Never having children or having a first child after 30 years old slightly increases risk
  • Some birth control methods slightly increase the risk
  • Breast implants slightly increase the risk

Other gene mutations that aren’t as serious as the BRCA mutation include: ATM gene ataxia-telangiectasia), TP53 (rare and it causes other cancers also), CHEK2, PTEN CDH1, STK11 and PALB2. When these genes are healthy they help repair DNA or they help with cell growth.

Women who have a father or brother with breast cancer are at a significantly higher risk. Taller women are also at a slightly higher risk, which is not understood. Women with dense breast tissue are at a 1.5 to 2 times greater risk than women with average breast density. Women who do not go through menopause until after age 55 are a slightly higher risk.

A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Story and Why You Need to Know, Are You Dense?

New Breast Cancer Treatment

There is a recent groundbreaking study using radiation treatment for breast cancer that is completed in just 10 days. It was found to be just as effective as the treatment that lasts for 6 weeks. This study included 520 women with stage 1 and stage 2 breast cancer. The patients received radiation treatment 5 times over 10 days. The initial treatment removed the tumor, then the women received the 10 day treatment. There was no difference in the survival rate or for tumor recurrence as compared to patients who had whole breast radiation.

Mammogram

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in Conclusion

Women must decide when they want a mammogram. Of course, if they find a lump in their breast at any age it should be reported to their physician. Women should do a monthly check for lumps to be on the safe side.

If they are at a higher risk based on the risk factors listed listed above, then they should consider getting a mammogram. They could also get a blood test to check for the BRCA genes if there is breast cancer in their family, as knowing if they are at a higher risk could save their lives.

Breast Cancer Type and Stage: What You Need to Know

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

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  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    15 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi MG,

    Thank you for your very nice comments. They are certainly appreciated.

  • emge profile image

    MG Singh emge 

    15 months ago from Singapore

    Pamela, I must complement you on your knowledge as well as the art of presentation. Adds up to a lot of info for me.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    15 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Rajan,

    Your comment is so true. I guess we all want to be as healthy as possible. I lost a good friend to breast cancer. Getting a mammogram when you become the right age is a smart thing to do.

    Thanks so much for your comments, Rajan.

  • rajan jolly profile image

    Rajan Singh Jolly 

    15 months ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

    Useful information. It is good to know that making certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk factors for breast cancer.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    18 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Alyssa, Having no breast cancer in your family is a plus for sure. I appreciate your generous comments. I hope your weekend is wonderful as well.

  • Alyssa Nichol profile image

    Alyssa 

    18 months ago from Ohio

    Very informative! I've been wondering when I would have to start getting mammograms.. not long ago, I read an article online that talked about baseline mammograms for women at age 35.. just a few short years away for me. Luckily cancer doesn't run in my family so hopefully it's not something I will have to worry too much about. As I was reading through, I had a chuckle.. the number one risk factor is being born female...Not much we can do about that. haha! Thank you for breaking this down. Have a lovely weekend!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Liz, With the mammograms being offered every 3 years I think the monthly self exams are even more important. Thanks you for your comments Lia. Have a Happy New Year.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    19 months ago from UK

    I have several friends who have battled through breast cancer, several undergoing treatment now. In the UK mammograms are routinely offered every 3 years to over 50s.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Davika, That is so young to find a lump and I am glad it was benign. Doing a monthly self exam is a good way ti find any problem. I appreciate your comments.

    Have a happY New Year.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    19 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I had a lump in my breast at the age of 15 it was benign. Since then I was taught to self examine and it is what I have been doing for many years. Thank you for this valuable information.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I appreciate your nice comments. Have a Happy New Year, Linda.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Thanks again for sharing the useful information, Pamela. Your health articles are very informative and important.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Mary, The dense breast tissue has only been talked about in the last couple of years. I am glad you are getting regular mammograms since you had those cells removed quite a while ago.

    I think we all know someone who has had or has breast cancer. We need to get those regular checkups to prevent this disease. Thank you for commenting.

  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 

    19 months ago from Brazil

    Very informative. I had never heard the phrase, "dense breast tissue". Having had high grade cancer cells removed more than a decade ago, I have regular mammograms.

    I doubt there are many families whose lives haven't been affected breast cancer.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Genna, I think misdiagnosis does happen too frequently as I have the same problem. I end up getting multiple mammograms and have had an ultrasound. Every year I never have a normal mammo.

    I appreciate your comments that I relate to so well. Have a Happy New Year Genna!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Paula, I don't think we ever get over losing a family member that we have been close to even though the pain may lessen some with time. I undertand why you hate to hear those words. I am so sorry you lost your precious sister this way.

    The mammograms are important for you due to this loss. Thank you so much for sharing this personal information and for your comments.

    I wish a Happy New Year for you Paula!

  • fpherj48 profile image

    Suzie 

    19 months ago from Carson City

    Pam...Oh how I despise the term, "cancer," and hate even more to hear or see written, "breast cancer." This is how I lost my precious sister...my only sibling and very best friend, more than 10 years ago but still ever-so painful. Of all the many long talks we had while I was glued to her side in the last 3 months, we never did discuss her particular "type" of breast cancer......so I'll never know.

    Despite my need to bury my head in the sand.....I know that this article is important and has serious educational value. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. and......"Happy New Year," Pam! Cheers, Paula

  • Genna East profile image

    Genna East 

    19 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

    Pamela, I can't tell you how helpful this article is. I have the dense tissue condition, and have had multiple mam's to make certain there wasn't a problem. Misdiagnoses happen far more than we think.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Donna, It is probably a good time to start getting a mammogram.I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ms Dora, You are absolutely right and I am glad to hear you live a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for commenting.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    HI Audrey, I am sorry to hear about your mother. You are certainly in the group of women that does need more frequent evaluations. I appreciate your comments and wish you the best of health in the future.

  • vocalcoach profile image

    Audrey Hunt 

    19 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

    My mother died of breast cancer and I have dense breasts so regular mammograms are on my schedule. Thanks for this important information on this topic. All women need to be informed.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    19 months ago from The Caribbean

    Thanks for the information. I try to keep up with the yearly mammograms, meanwhile I remember that between screenings, good attitudes, good nutrition, exercise and so on are important for breast and overall good health. The complications are endless if the disease happens. Wishing that we all can prevent it.

  • Donna-Rayne profile image

    Donna Rayne 

    19 months ago from Greenwood, Indiana

    Thank you for an in-depth article that will save lives. I've yet to get one and I am 55 going on 56. At my next doctor's appt in two weeks, I will surely request one.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ruby, Breast cancer kills too many people for sure. Thank you so much for your nice comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Maria, That insurance excutive was awful! I think anyone would be horrified by his comments. Shauna has had a rough time. I appreciate your comments, Maria. Love and hugs. Have a Happy New Year!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Vivian, You are right. There is more radiation and someone telling you that your need the 3-D just for the money is wrong. At least you know you don't have to have that one again.

    Thank you for your comments, Vivian.

  • Noelle7 profile image

    Vivian Coblentz 

    19 months ago

    As always, a very interesting piece. You did an excellent job covering this topic.

    I usually have standard mammograms, but then one tech said I should do the 3-D one due to my breast density. I had the 3-D one done twice, even though it cost $60 more each time. Standard ones are included in our plan at no charge to us. My doctor later quoted my actual breast density and said the 3-D one was not warranted, so to spare myself the extra radiation next time. I asked why the tech suggested the 3-D one then, and he said the equipment is very expensive, so they have to keep it running to recover costs. Just a word of warning to anyone considering 3-D. There are less mistakes, but more radiation. Your doctor is the one to consult regarding whether your breast density warrants it or not.

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 

    19 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Informative and insightful post and comment thread, dear Pamela. I was moved by Shauna's experience and horrified by the mindset of the insurance executive in Flourish's remarks. Thank you for this update - much appreciated.

    Happy, peaceful 2020! Love, Maria

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    19 months ago from Southern Illinois

    This is a well written article. Breast cancer still kills too many. Screening is so important. Thank you for sharing your many articles on disease and health care.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I am sorry to hear about your friend and I hope her treatment takes care of the problem. I think we all know someone who had or has this cancer.

    I have a friend who had the BRAC gene with a very small tumor and she got a masectomy for both breasts because she did not want to take a chance on cancer in the future. She let some family members know and two others turned up with the BRAC gene and they both had cancer. She really saved their lives I think.

    I have never heard of a deorderant causing breast cancer ether. I thought this is such an important topic for women, which is why I decided to write about this topic. I appreciate your generous comments, Linda. Have a Happy New Year!

  • Carb Diva profile image

    Linda Lum 

    19 months ago from Washington State, USA

    Just yesterday a dear friend learned that she has Stage 2 breast cancer. I don't think there is a person on this earth who does not know someone who has had this dreadful disease. My mother-in-law had breast cancer twice, so my daughters will need to be vigilant about being tested.

    I think Clive's comment about deodorant is one of those rumors that circulate on the internet. There is a misconception that deodorant is "bad" because they tell you not to use it when you go in for screening.

    Thank you for the time that you put into your articles. They are always valuable and informative.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Bill, The dense breast tissue is certainly an important thing for women to know since 40% of women have this type of tissue.

    I appreciate your nice comments Bill. Have a Happy New Year.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    19 months ago from Olympia, WA

    One of the local news reporters just faced this problem of dense tissue. Her initial mammogram showed nothing wrong...a second test found cancer...just in time....very important issue for all women to be aware of, Pamela. Thank you for raising awareness.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Peggy, Breast cancer for women is second only to skin cancer. So often, it is discovered too late. I hope you have a good result from your test.

    I appreciate your generous comments.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 

    19 months ago from Houston, Texas

    I just had my annual mammogram and am waiting for the results. Years ago, I had a lump in my breast which was removed surgically. Thankfully, it was benign. We have lost several good friends to cancer and in both cases it started with breast cancer. As always, your posts are very informative. Thanks for raising awareness about this topic.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Eric, The radiation in a CAT scan is a lot and I have asked my doctors to stop ordering them as well since I have had too many. I am not surprised that many people in your yoga class have a breast related cancer as for women it is second only to skin cancers.

    I am glad this article enlightens you where your wife is concerned. Thanks so much for your comments, my friend. They are always appreciated.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 

    19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Well this is enlightening. In my oncology yoga relaxation classes I would say about 1/3 are breast related.Of course that changes as we have rotations. Rotations in our case//well you know what I mean.

    My doc. stopped my CT Scans because of the radiation. We are just very vigilant about changing conditions.

    My wife is about that neck of the woods so I know more now and that is a big thank you.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi MG Singh, Thank you so much for your very nice comments.

  • emge profile image

    MG Singh emge 

    19 months ago from Singapore

    A wealth of information. You are simply great to disseminate all this knowledge.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Flourish, I never found an exact reason for why mammograms are not recommended after the age of 75. I think you are getting an radiation exposure that may not be necessary, false positives and if there has been no breast cancer in your family, then it is probably unlikely to occur after 75 years of age.

    I have had a mammogram every year and end up getting a second more involved screening due to density also. I dread getting a mammogram as they are always a bit abnormal. I know what you mean about the waiting.

    What that insurance executive said is awful! I would have gasped and been shocked also. We have come a long way. Routine mammograms are recommended for every other year, but with the density issue they would be annual.

    I appreciate your comments, Flourish.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 

    19 months ago from USA

    Do you know why it’s not recommended to do mammograms after age 74? Just wondering and thinking specifically about my mother.

    I recall in the mid 1990s when insurance would not pay for yearly preventive mammogram screenings. I was in the room when an insurance executive explained to HR managers that it was more cost effective to “just cut off the cancerous ones” when they occur rather than do annual mammograms on every woman. We gasped. We’ve come a long way since then thankfully.

    I’ve had abnormal results that were thankfully false alarms because of density and it’s scary. Your life passes before you and you mull over lots of things in those days that you wait for the retest.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Shauna, I am sorry to hear about all the things you have endured. I knew the 3-D mammogram was new and I am not surprised that some insurance does not cover it but they should cover it. When you have dense breast tissue a 3-D would be advisable.

    I have dense breast tissue also and I have to alwys get a second mammogram that is much more uncomfortable. I didnt know I had that issue until a couple of years ago so I don't have to go through anything like you do. I know Tamoxifen has numerous side effects, so I am glad to hear you stopped taking it.

    I hope women read and think about this article since 40% of women have dense breast tissue and they are just now telling people. I hope you have a healthy future, and I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    Have a Happy New Year, Shauna!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    19 months ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Clive, I am sure there probably are other factors. I did not find any deoderts listed, but I would hope anything like that is taken off the market. I think processed foods can be a factor in all types of cancer. I think smoking is also a problem even though I didn't see it listed on the sites I seached. I appreciate your comments.

  • clivewilliams profile image

    Clive Williams 

    19 months ago from Jamaica

    There are also some other factors which increases the chance of breast cancer such as the use of certain deodorants. Continuous consumption of certain processed foods also increase the risk of many kind of cancers.

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 

    19 months ago from Central Florida

    Pamela, I don't often comment on your medical posts because many of them don't relate to me or my family. Thank God! However, this one does.

    I have Atypical Hyperplasia, which means I have dense breast tissue and cells that are constantly moving/changing. As the result, I've had to have two mammos per year and two utrasounds per year plus one breast MRI per year (for which I had to be given an intravenous "cocktail" because I'm highly claustrophobic). During this time, my doctor had me on Tamoxifen, which is a 5-year breast cancer treatment drug that was supposed to thwart the threat. Mind you, there's no history of breast cancer in my family. However, Tamoxifen comes with some dangerous side effects, of which I experienced half way thru the treatment. I took myself off the drug and called my cancer doctor. She agreed that I was right in ceasing taking the drug.

    A few months later, I started bleeding (after not having a period for over a year) for over two months. I went to my primary doctor, who was on vacation, and her stand-in very coldly told me that I probably had cancer. Nice bedside manner, huh?

    I made an appointment with a gyn and was told that my uterine lining was 56% thicker that it should have been, which was causing the bleeding. I had surgery to scrape the lining. All was well until two months later when I started bleeding again. I had to have that same surgery repeated. When I went for follow up, a lesion was discovered on my vulva, so I had to undergo a partial vulvectomy.

    One of the many side effects of Tamoxifen is cervical cancer. I was fortunate in having the lesion on my vulva removed before it moved upwards.

    I have not yet had a 3-D mammo because they're just now becoming available and not all insurance covers them. But you can bet that my next one will be as comprehensive as can be, even if I have to come out of pocket.

    BTW, I'll be 63 in March 2020. I was diagnosed with Atypical Hyperplasia when I was in my early fifties.

    Pamela, thank you for this article. I hope women take heed to what you've posted and my subsequent comment.

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