Breast Cancer Screening and Tests for Women with Dense Breasts

If it is determined that a woman has dense breasts, she should still get her recommended mammogram every year. A mammogram is the only medical imaging screening test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Many cancers are seen on mammograms, even if the patient has dense breast tissue.

Studies have also shown that ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and 3-D mammogram (tomosynthesis) can help find breast cancers that cannot be seen on a traditional mammogram. However, ultrasound and MRI show more findings that are not cancer, which can result in added testing and unnecessary biopsies. Tomosynthesis reduces the need for additional tests and results in fewer unnecessary biopsies. Women should check with their insurance provider to see if the cost of ultrasound, MRI or tomosynthesis is covered by their plan.

A woman with dense breasts should discuss the issue with her primary care doctor. Together, they can decide which, if any, additional screening exams are appropriate.

Screening for Women without Dense Breasts

If a woman’s breasts are not dense, other factors may still place her 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 high risk.

Woman who are at low risk and have entirely fatty breast tissue should still get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.

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