Shedding Light on Dense Breast Tissue

You’ve probably heard of dense breast tissue. But you may not know what it means, or you may not know how it impacts your risk of breast cancer. Fortunately, the experts at River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic have the answers. Thanks to their high-tech imaging services, they also have the ability to get a clear picture of dense breasts.

Understanding Dense Breast Tissue

The breasts consist of glands, ducts, tissue and fat. Glands and ducts produce and transport milk. Fat and tissue keep glands and ducts in place and give breasts their specific shape. Dense breasts contain more fibrous and glandular tissue and less fat.

Dense breast tissue doesn’t impact how your breasts look or feel. In fact, dense breasts may look and feel identical to their less dense counterparts.

Women of any age can have dense breasts. However, dense breast tissue is more common among young, lean women. Your likelihood of dense breasts also increases if you’re taking hormone replacement therapy or are pregnant or breastfeeding. As you age, your breasts may become less dense.

Why Breast Density Matters

Though dense breast tissue doesn’t cause your breasts to look different on the outside, inside your breasts, it’s a different story. This story is best told with mammography.

On a mammogram, non-dense tissue is black and translucent. Abnormalities can easily be seen on a mammogram because they stand out. Dense tissue, on the other hand, appears white on a mammogram, which makes it difficult for abnormalities to be detected. As a result, it’s harder for providers to detect and diagnose breast cancer in women with      dense breasts.

Additionally, women with dense breasts are more likely to experience breast cancer. Researchers aren’t sure why, but they have their theories. One hypothesis is that dense breast tissue has more cells available to turn into cancer. Despite this, women with dense breast tissue aren’t more likely to die of breast cancer.

While it’s possible to find cancerous cells within dense breasts during a traditional mammogram, another advanced technology simplifies the process.

Mammography in Three Dimensions

For decades, mammography was a two-dimensional experience. Your breasts got compressed as the mammogram machine took two-dimensional images. A radiologist then reviewed your scans. If suspicious areas were present, further testing was ordered. For dense breast tissue, the results were often inconclusive.

New technology has improved the mammogram experience. Most notably, three-dimensional imaging has taken mammography to the next level. With 3D mammography, radiologists review a three-dimensional image of the breasts. While helpful for all mammograms, 3D mammograms are particularly useful with dense breasts.

Compared to traditional mammograms, 3D mammography takes only a few extra seconds, but the results are worth it. During a 3D mammogram, the machine takes dozens of images of the breasts, and those images are reconstructed into a 3D image. The radiologist can review the images layer by layer to detect cancer more easily.

If you’re at a very high risk of breast cancer, or if the radiologist finds any areas of concern, your doctor may recommend additional imaging studies. A breast ultrasound or breast MRI are some of the most common types of supplemental breast cancer screening tests.

Learn about 3D mammography services available at River’s Edge Hospital & Clinic.

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