How Breast Density Can Increase Your Cancer Risk

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Getting an annual mammogram is every woman’s best defense against breast cancer. It can detect most cancers when they are small and treatable, and it is the only medical imaging test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. You know it’s the right thing to do – but when should you start?

University Hospitals supports the screening guidelines of the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging, which recommend that all women have yearly mammograms starting at age 40 or sooner if certain risk factors exist, including:

  • A strong family history (mother, sister, aunt or cousin had breast cancer before age 50)
  • Previous radiation therapy to the chest
  • A family history of ovarian cancer
  • Dense breast tissue

Why are Dense Breasts a Risk Factor?

Breasts are made up of  dense (fibroglandular) tissue and fatty tissue. Some women have breasts that are almost entirely made up of dense tissue, while others may have mostly fatty tissue.

Most will have a combination of the two in varying ratios. On a screening mammogram, fatty tissue will appear as a dark area and dense breast tissue will appear as a white area. Because tumors are typically made up of dense tissue, they also appear as a white area.

This can make it harder to detect a tumor in a woman with dense breasts and lead to false-negative results.

How Do I Know if I Have Dense Breasts?

The radiologist who interprets your mammogram will assign a density score based on the amount of fibroglandular tissue in your breasts. Breast density information will be included in the written results you receive from the doctor. If you have dense breast tissue, you may want to consider supplemental screening.

University Hospitals now offers a new choice for supplemental screening that might be appropriate for some women with dense breasts – Fast Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

Fast Breast MRI

“Breast MRI is the most sensitive exam for finding breast cancers,” says Donna Plecha, MD, Director of Breast Imaging at UH Cleveland Medical Center“It uses magnetic fields to create images of the breast and there is no radiation involved."

Unlike a full breast MRI study, which can take 45 to 60 minutes or more to complete, the Fast Breast MRI takes 10 minutes. For the test, a safe, contrast material is injected through an intravenous line. The contrast material enhances the abnormal tissue within the breast and is highlighted on the images obtained during the scan.

Breast MRI may offer valuable information that cannot be obtained through other imaging techniques, including 3-D mammography (tomosynthesis) and ultrasound.

Fast Breast MRI is not covered by most insurance providers. It is important to talk to your doctor about your family history and risk factors, including breast density, to determine if a Fast Breast MRI study is right for you.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 1-855-653-3245.

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UH Breast Care Team

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