Greater Grand Rapids:
Muskegon & the Lakeshore:

Options for Women with Dense Breasts

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?

Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads your mammogram. There are four categories of mammographic density. The radiologist assigns each mammogram to one of the categories. Your doctor should be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on where you fall on the density scale.

Why is breast density important?

Having dense breast tissue may increase your risk of getting breast cancer. Dense breasts also 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.

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 any 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, 3D Mammography (also called digital breast tomosynthesis) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find breast cancers that can’t be seen on a mammogram. However, these tests can sometimes show more findings that are not cancer, which can result in added testing and unnecessary biopsies. Also, the costs of ultrasound and MRI may not be covered by insurance.

Mercy Health offers 3D Mammography in Greater Grand Rapids and Whole Breast Ultrasound on the Lakeshore.

What is the Breast Density Bill?

The State of Michigan passed the Breast Density Bill that requires physicians to inform patients they have dense breasts at the time of their mammography. The law requires doctor's offices to notify women in the mail if they have dense breast tissue. Dense breasts can sometimes make detecting cancer more difficult and additional testing can be required.

Dr. Jamie Caughran discusses how the new law may affect you in this WZZM TV 13 "Friends for Life" Segment >

Dr. Jessica Keto discusses the issue in this WZZM TV 13 "Friends for Life" Segment > story: "Dense Breasts? Do you need additional testing? What breast specialists are telling your doctor" > story: "Have dense breasts? What Michigan's new law means to you" >

What should I do if I have dense breasts? What if I don’t?

If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor. Together, you can decide which, if any, additional screening exams are right for you. 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 at low risk, and have entirely fatty breasts, you should still get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter YouTube YouTube