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Dense breast tissue (more ligaments and glands than fat) can make mammogram imaging challenging. But with the latest advancements in technology, 3D mammography offers more precise and accurate imaging, giving women who have dense breast tissue (or implants) extra peace of mind.
Our expert, radiologist Leena Kamat, MD, from AdventHealth Medical Group, explains what to know about dense breasts, why 3D mammograms are key, and what to know about mammograms with implants, too.
What Does It Mean to Have Dense Breasts?
Women’s breasts are composed of several kinds of tissue, including fat, milk ducts and supportive tissue. Dense breasts occur when a woman has a high ratio of ligaments and glands compared to fat in her breasts. Having dense breasts is common; about 4 in 10 women have them. If a woman has a high ratio of fat compared to everything else, the breasts are considered fatty.
“While younger women tend to have denser breasts, breast density is largely determined by your genetics,” says Dr. Kamat. Different women have different amounts of each, and they change over time.
“The concern is that women who have dense breasts may be at an increased risk for breast cancer due to more hormonally-receptive tissue, and higher breast density can also make it more challenging to obtain mammogram images of all the breast tissue while also making it more difficult for radiologists to interpret them and identify early-stage cancers,” explains Dr. Kamat.
How 3D Mammography Benefits Women Who Have Dense Breasts
Advanced, 3D mammography capabilities give radiologists a view through dense breast tissue, making it possible to catch something that might have been obscured with traditional mammogram technology.
“Women with dense breasts get the greatest benefit from 3D mammography. By creating multiple layers of imaging, 3D mammograms can reveal problem areas in dense tissue,” Dr. Kamat says. “Radiologists can investigate tissue through multiple levels of images to see if an area of concern is regular tissue or a possible tumor.” Problem areas in breast tissue can appear as white spots on mammograms, and can sometimes block the view of tumors, which can be disguised as white spots.
3D imaging can give the radiologist a better idea of what these spots truly are by looking above and below the spots. In this way, 3D technology empowers radiologists to find small tumors that could be hidden in dense areas of the breast.
And when it comes to finding tumors, evidence continues to show that 3D mammograms are better at finding cancer. An October 2018 study that tracked 15,000 women over five years found that 3D mammography detected 30% more cancers than traditional mammography. And we know that when cancer is found in its earliest stages (often because of routine mammograms), women are more likely to make a full recovery — and less likely to need aggressive treatment to get there.
Radiologists Will Notify You About Dense Breast Tissue
“It’s important for women to know if they have dense breasts so they can make more informed decisions about protecting their health,” says Dr. Kamat.
For this reason, Dr. Kamat shares that the state of Florida recently enacted a law that requires imaging centers to notify women if they have dense breasts in their mammogram results letters.
“If you are told that you have dense breasts by your doctor or from your mammogram results, you can choose whether you would like to have further screenings, which for women of average risk would include screening breast ultrasound,” advises Dr. Kamat.
Additional screening can help put your mind at ease by adding another level of breast cancer surveillance.
Mammogram Considerations With Breast Implants
Implants can make imaging all of the breast tissue through a mammogram more challenging. Age and placement of the implant can cause some of the breast tissue to be obscured in the mammogram images.
“Mammograms are safe for women with implants and is the number one recommended breast cancer screening measure. For women who have implants, we take a total of eight mammogram images instead of four compared to women without them,” says Dr. Kamat.
The mammogram technologist will take four images (two of each breast) as a standard mammogram, and then four additional pictures while gently manipulating the implant to image the breast tissue around it.
We’re Serious About Your Safety
We focus on the safety of our imaging facilities so you can focus on your health. Find peace of mind knowing we’re prepared to protect and care for you at your next appointment. All AdventHealth facilities now have enhanced safety measures in place, including:
- Extra sanitizing of all areas and equipment
- Face mask requirement for all patients and staff
- Social distancing in our waiting rooms
- Temperature checks upon arrival
Schedule Your Mammogram Today for Peace of Mind
No matter what turns your breast health journey takes, AdventHealth is your beacon for support and expert breast health care.
This is why we want to make it easier for you to get your annual mammogram with 30-minute appointment times and the largest network of locations in Central Florida. Learn more and schedule your mammogram today.