On February 15, 2019, Congress passed a federal funding bill stating all mammography providers must include updated information concerning dense breast tissue in their reports sent to both patients and their physicians. This is an important move since women with dense breast tissue have a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women with fatty breast tissue.
Radiologists who are subspecialized in breast imaging recommend annual mammograms for women over 40 and supplemental screening with an Accelerated Breast MRI (AB MRI) for women with dense breast tissue.
To understand better why it’s crucial to get an annual mammogram and an AB MRI if you have dense breast tissue, it’s important to first understand why women with dense breast tissue are at risk.
Why Dense Breast Tissue Poses a High Risk
Fatty breast tissue, more common in older women than younger women, is the term used to describe breast tissue made up of fatty tissue. Fatty breast tissue does not appear dense on a mammogram, making it easier to detect tumors. Since fatty tissue is radiolucent, or transparent to x-rays, it produces a dark background which makes white tumors much easier to see.
Dense breast tissue is comprised of more connective tissue and less fat. The connective tissue appears white on a mammogram. Cancer also appears white, so the tumors are often hidden by the dense tissue making it difficult to pick up on a mammogram.
As a woman ages, her breasts usually develop more fatty breast tissue, however, ¼ of postmenopausal women (40%) still have dense breast tissue while 2/3 of pre-menopausal women’s breast tissue is dense. The higher the density of breast tissue, the higher the risk of breast cancer development.
According to Cancer.org, “Nearly half of all women age 40 and older who get mammograms are found to have dense breasts. Breast density is often inherited, but other factors can influence it. Factors associated with lower breast density include increasing age, having children, and using tamoxifen. Factors associated with higher breast density include using postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and having a low body mass index.”
Breast Tissue By Groups
The more fibrous and glandular tissue in your breasts, the higher the risk cancer can develop- and go by undetected. Breast tissue is classified into four groups according to BreastCancer.org and The Breast Imaging Reporting and Database Systems. These groups include:
- Mostly Fatty Tissue: The breasts contain very little fibrous and glandular tissue and are made up of mostly fat.
- Scattered Density Tissue: The breasts are made up of quite a bit of fatty tissue, but there are small areas of fibrous and glandular tissue that can block tumors in a mammogram.
- Consistent Density Tissue: Fibrous and glandular tissue are evenly distributed through the breasts making it difficult to detect small cancer masses.
- Extremely Dense Tissue: The breasts are made up of a lot of fibrous and glandular tissue. This makes it extremely challenging to see cancer on a mammogram as the tumors can easily blend in with normal tissue.
You must be aware of the density of your breast tissue so you can seek the proper high-risk breast cancer screening and take advantage of the AB MRI to catch tumors which may be hidden.
Using a Mammogram and AB MRI to Detect Cancer in Dense Breast Tissue
Women over the age of 40 must receive an annual mammogram. It’s also crucial women with dense breast tissue receive supplemental breast screening with an AB MRI. The Accelerated Breast MRI provides the latest breakthrough technology in breast cancer screening. The AB MRI is radiation-free and provides greater detail and accuracy than using a traditional or even 3D mammogram alone.
If you have dense breast tissue, it’s important to schedule an AB MRI screening along with your annual mammogram appointments to ensure you’re getting the most protection. The AB MRI is more sensitive in picking up undetected cancers than most mammograms. It has the improved ability to pick up abnormalities in the breast tissue, detecting 16-23 more cancers per 1000 women undiagnosed.
Extremely sensitive, the AB MRI uses a specialized noninvasive imaging technique. Highly detailed images of your breast tissue are taken using a powerful magnetic field, radiofrequency pulses, and a computer. There are no x-rays or radiation concerns when using an AB MRI. Traditional MRI machines featured an enclosed tube. Our new AB MRI is open, allowing you to experience more comfort and ease of use.
The Accelerated Breast MRI is now available for women with dense breast tissue to receive the highest level of diagnostic peace-of-mind. At American Health Imaging, we want to help you take preventative measures to ensure breast cancer never goes undetected. To set up an appointment, contact us today or talk your doctor to learn more.