Women Should Be Told About Their Breast Density When They Have A Mammogram

Breast density appears white or bright on mammograms – so do breast cancers. Tomas K/Shutterstock

Kristy Hamilton 03 Oct 2016, 22:49

What can women do about it?

A woman’s breast density is established at the time her breasts form, and is largely determined by genetic factors.

“Environmental” factors then can modify breast density over time. This includes having children, which reduces breast density, and taking certain hormone therapies: hormone replacement therapy increases density, while the drug Tamoxifen decreases density.

Further reading: How does breast density impact on cancer screening?

We don’t yet have a straightforward answer about what women with high breast density for their age should do.

Being “breast aware” is important for all women, but particularly women with higher breast density. Get to know how your breasts feel and check them regularly for changes.

Mammography is the best breast cancer screening test for women aged 50-74 who aren’t showing any symptoms. Early detection improves the outcomes for women with breast cancer, as therapies are more effective at early stages of disease and chances of survival are increased.

For women aged 40 to 49 and over 75, the research is less clear about the benefits of breast screening.

Supplemental screening options such as ultrasound and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are available for women with high breast density. However, these also have a number of limitations and are not covered by Medicare for this purpose.

Ultrasound often results in high rates of false positives, indicating that breast cancer is present when it is not. A false positive can be a distressing experience, with additional tests sometimes being required such as a breast biopsy.

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