Fighting breast cancer starts with getting a mammogram. This test looks for changes in your breast tissue that can be indicative of cancer. But what does it mean when you’re told you have dense breast tissue? Should you be concerned?
Board-certified physician John Paul Roberts, MD, is an expert in both obstetrics and gynecology. He helps you understand your mammogram results and discusses the next steps if they’re abnormal.
Why do I need a mammogram?
A mammogram is essentially a specialized X-ray of your breast tissue that checks for cancerous changes. Breast self-exams don’t always catch the early signs of breast cancer. A mammogram increases the chances that we find cancerous changes early and can start treatment earlier.
This test isn’t invasive, but does cause discomfort for some women. You stand in front of the mammogram machine. The technologist then places your breast between two plastic plates.
The plates put pressure on your breast, flattening out your breast tissue. This allows the machine to get a good picture of the inside of your breast. The pressure lasts just a few seconds.
What is dense breast tissue?
Sometimes, the results of your mammogram show that your breast tissue is dense, but what does that mean? The density of your breasts is determined by how much of each type of tissue that you have.
There are three types of tissue in your breasts: fibrous tissue, glandular tissue, and fatty tissue. The fibrous tissue keeps the rest of your breast tissue in its place. Glandular tissue is the area in your breast where milk is produced. The fatty tissue gives your breasts their shape and fills in the areas between the other tissues.
When you have a mammogram, it differentiates the three types of tissue. If you have mostly fatty tissue, your breasts are considered to be low density.
But if you have a lot of fibrous and glandular tissue, and little fatty tissue, your breasts are considered highly dense. Basically, the more fatty tissue you have, the less dense your breasts are.
Should you be worried?
Breast density on its own doesn’t mean you have breast cancer. But extremely dense breast tissue does put you at a higher risk for breast cancer than someone with less dense, fatty breast tissue.
We don’t completely understand why this type of tissue increases your risk for breast cancer, but you should be aware of your breast density so you can take preventive measures. For one thing, dense breast tissue masks tumors on the mammogram.
Dense breast tissue shows up white on the imaging of a mammogram, as does a tumor. For this reason, it makes it difficult to differentiate between the two sometimes.
Dr. Roberts may order an MRI or breast ultrasound after your mammogram to make sure that he doesn’t miss anything and to get better imaging.
If you’re in need of a mammogram or need an expert to discuss your results with, don’t hesitate to contact our office in Plano, Texas.