How Dense Breasts Can Affect Mammography

Breasts contain various types of tissue that are glandular, connective, and fatty. The composition of these different tissue types within a particular breast are what make up the breast density.

How are Dense Breasts Diagnosed?

An individual may be considered as having dense breasts if their breast tissues consist more highly of glandular and connective tissues, and less fatty tissues. This determination can be made by a medical professional during a breast exam, but can also be assessed during a self-exam.

The Classification Process

Additional diagnostic tests, such as a mammogram, can also provide insight regarding the types of tissue within the breast. The findings from this test can classify a woman’s breast tissue in one of four ways:

  • Mostly fatty: The breasts are primarily comprised of fatty tissue rather than types that are non-fatty, making any possible abnormalities easily visible.
  • Scattered density: Certain regions of the breasts contain significantly more or less fatty tissue than others, though there is still little glandular or connective tissue shown.
  • Consistent density: There are a significant number of areas within the breast that contain non-fatty tissues, which can make it difficult to see small masses that may have formed.
  • Extremely dense: There is a large amount of glandular and connective tissue within the breast.

The Significance of Having Dense Breasts

Having less fatty tissue within the breast is not uncommon. In fact, roughly 50% of all women above the age of 40 can be classified as having dense breasts. While it is nothing to be immediately alarmed about, it does call for a bit of added concern and complexity when screening an individual for serious health conditions like breast cancer.

Traditional mammograms will often be unable to detect any abnormalities that may exist within the breast, which often leads women with this condition to be screened using alternative diagnostic imaging tests. In addition, having more dense breasts puts a person at a higher risk for developing cancer.

Risk Factors

There is no specific reason why a woman may or may not develop dense breast tissue. However, there are several known risk factors associated with this condition, including:

  • Age: As a woman’s age increases, so does her likelihood of gradually developing more dense breast tissue.
  • Body mass index: Women with less fat across their body often have little fatty tissue within their breasts.
  • Hormone levels: Many women elect to supplement naturally decreasing hormone levels during menopause. Using these types of hormone replacements can increase the chance that dense breast tissue will develop.
  • Family history: Individuals with a mother or another member of the family who has been diagnosed with dense breasts is much more likely to experience the same condition.

Prevention Strategies and Awareness

There is no need to panic over a diagnosis of dense breast tissue. The most important aspect is to be aware and actively seeking the best quality care possible so that if a problem with the breast tissue is noticed, patients are able to intervene as quickly as possible using a variety of treatment options offered by Radiology Imaging Associates.

Lifestyle Changes

In terms of preventing the formation of dense breast tissue, there are many ways in which women can lower their risk every day by implementing simple habits, such as:

  • Do not smoke
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Consume nutritious foods
  • Stay active and exercise regularly

Complete Breast Screenings More Often

Normally, women are advised to complete a mammogram every 1-2 years to assess the health of their breast tissue. Because persons with dense breasts are facing a higher risk of developing breast cancer, it is typically recommended that they complete these routine evaluations more frequently. Women with dense breasts should perform a self-exam once each month, and be screened by their physician once each year.

In addition to completing diagnostic tests more frequently, your doctor may order a different type of test for an individual who has dense breasts. A 3D mammogram, breast ultrasound, and breast MRI will all be able to produce highly defined images in comparison to a standard mammogram, which helps to more quickly and accurately identify suspicious tissues of the breasts.

COVID-19 Update

The Governors of Maryland and Virginia have closed all non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Radiology centers have been classified as essential services. 

The health, well-being, and safety of our patients and staff is our top priority. We are committed to helping stop the spread of COVID-19. We have taken steps to continue providing only critical service required to meet the needs of the community.  After very careful consideration we have decided to reschedule all non-urgent imaging appointments as well as consolidate our services by adjusting hours and center openings. To protect everyone, we are closely following the guidance of local, national and global health authorities – including the CDC – in addressing current challenges. As circumstances continue to change, we will keep you informed.

As the situation continues to develop in our community, we want to maintain our ability to provide quality service while safeguarding the health and safety of our patients and staff. We realize these are tenuous times and we are actively monitoring the ongoing situation and following the latest available CDC guidelines. In an effort to limit the risk of exposure for our patients and our employees who may be in high-risk categories, we are asking that you:

Please do not go to a Fairfax Radiology Center/Radiology Imaging Associates location if ANY of the following apply:

    1. You have cough, fever, or shortness of breath
    2. You have traveled by airplane or to New York City in the past 14 days or less
    3. You have had contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or who is undergoing a test (results pending) for COVID-19.

Instead, please contact your physician for instructions. Patients may call to reschedule their appointment once they are symptom and fever-free for a minimum of 24 hours without the use of medication.

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