The Breast Center at Providence Hospital is a state-of-the art facility staffed by specially trained physicians and other caregivers from multiple specialties who are experts in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Numerous resources are engaged to provide every patient with holistic care in a spiritually centered setting. Our emphasis is on the timely evaluation of the problem, rapid diagnosis and an optimal course of individualized treatment for women and men with breast disease.

 
     
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Dense Breasts

The Breast Cancer Patient Education Act: Act 2013-284, a bill enacted by the Alabama Legislature in 2013, requires clinicians to inform women having mammograms if their breast tissue is dense.

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 the Providence Hospital Breast Center for your mammogram, you will receive written information about breast density if it is identified on your mammogram. You will also receive a written report indicating that you have dense breast tissue and the radiologist’s recommended schedule for your breast health imaging. Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads your mammogram.

Breast density falls into one of four categories that reflect how sensitive mammography is to any tumors that are present.  Your doctor should also be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on where you fall on the density scale.

  • Almost Entirely Fatty Tissue -- Mammogram is very effective and sensitive to even small tumors
  • Scattered Fibroglandular Tissue -- Minor decrease in sensitivity
  • Heterogeneously Dense Tissue Present -- Moderate degree in sensitivity
  • Extremely Dense Tissue Present -- Marked decrease in sensitivity

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 slightly increase your risk of getting breast cancer. However, this is only one of multiple risks for getting breast cancer.

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 (ARC), 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 benefit from starting earlier.

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.

Are there 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 canít 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 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 donít 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 low risk and have entirely fatty breast, you should still get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

This brochure from the Alabama Department of Public Health provides more information about breast cancer. For additional questions regarding breast density, please contact your health care provider.

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

 
 
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