Breast Density and Your Mammogram Report

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Regular mammograms are the best way to detect breast cancer early. But if your mammogram report says that you have dense breast tissue, you may be wondering what that means. 

Women who have dense breast tissue seem to have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with less dense breast tissue. It’s unclear at this time why dense breast tissue is linked to breast cancer risk.

We do know that dense breast tissue makes it harder for radiologists to see cancer. On mammograms, dense breast tissue looks white. Breast masses or tumors also look white, so the dense tissue can hide some tumors. In contrast, fatty tissue looks almost black. On a black background it’s easier to see a tumor that looks white. So, mammograms can be less accurate in women with dense breasts.

In some states, women whose mammograms show heterogeneously dense or extremely dense breasts must be told that they have dense breasts in the summary of the mammogram report that is sent to patients.

The language used is mandated by each law, and may say something like this:

“Your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense. Dense breast tissue is common and is not abnormal. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This information about the results of your mammogram is given to you so you will be informed when you talk with your doctor. Together, you can decide which screening options are right for you. A report of your results was sent to your primary physician.”

Not all states require this disclosure. And, different states have different requirements. They may provide a general disclosure about breast density rather than a report of the patient's specific breast density. As of Marcy 28, 2019, 38 states require some level of breast density notification after a mammogram. You can check the status of each state at densebreast-info.org

Since each state's requirements are different, when you get a mammogram, if your healthcare provider doesn't tell you anything regarding breast density, make sure to ask.

Read more about breast density from the American Cancer Society.

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