What Do Dense Breasts Mean for You? FDA Guidelines Aim to Give You Answers

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More than half of women over 40 have dense breasts. If you’re among them, you probably wonder how they affect your mammogram results and risk for cancer.

The US Food and Drug Administration is taking steps to ensure you have answers. The agency is proposing that women who receive a mammogram be given a letter about what their breast density means for them when they receive their results.

AdventHealth radiologist Amy Campbell, MD, says the letter will not only inform a woman about her breast density “but also include an informational paragraph about how breast density affects cancer detection and cancer risk.”

They’re the first proposed changes to mammography screening guidelines in more than two decades. Dr. Campbell says it’s a positive move that will help women around the country understand what the density of their breast means using the same language.

“There is currently a lot of variability and differing levels of accountability in each state depending on their laws,” Dr. Campbell said. “This proposal would unify the reporting system and make it easier for the patients and referring providers to understand.”

Knowing what dense breasts are goes a long way toward helping you take control over your health through informed decision-making.

(For more information on what to expect during a mammogram, check out this guide from AdventHealth.)

What Are Dense Breasts?

Women’s breasts are composed of many different tissues, including fat, ligaments, glands and others. Dense breasts occur when a woman has a high ratio of ligaments and glands compared to fat in her breasts. If a woman has a high ratio of fat compared to everything else, the breasts are considered to be “fatty.”

“While younger women tend to have denser breasts, breast density is largely determined by your genetics,” says Dr. Campbell. 

“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 earlier stage cancers,” explains Dr. Campbell. 

Think of it this way:

If you are looking through a clear piece of glass, it is easy to see what’s on the other side. This is equivalent to having a fatty breast. However, if you look through a frosted piece of glass, it’s hard to tell what lies behind it. This is what happens with dense breasts.

“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. Campbell.

For this reason, Dr. Campbell 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. Campbell.

Additional screening can help put your mind at ease by adding another level of breast cancer surveillance.

Support at Every Step

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 and understand the results, whether you have dense breasts or not.

If you are age 40 and over, have not had any breast symptoms, and have not had a mammogram in the last year, you do not need a physician’s order to get a screening mammogram. Learn more and schedule your mammogram today

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