WATCH: Maui Health explains ‘What is Dense Breast?’
MEDICAL MINUTE: A common question posed by mammography patients is: “What is a Dense Breast, and is it normal?” Angelia Andrade, Imaging Manager at Maui Health explains.
According to Andrade, all breasts are composed of milk glands and ducts, supportive fibrous tissue, and fatty tissue. Breasts that are primarily fatty tissue are classified as less dense. In contrast, breasts made up of mostly non-fatty tissue are considered dense.
Some breasts have almost no fatty tissue, and these might be classified as extremely dense.
“You are more likely to have dense breast tissue if you are: younger, have less body fat, or take hormone therapy for menopause. However, anyone can have dense breasts,” said Andrade.
Dense breast tissue is actually pretty common, according to Andrade, with about 50% of women having dense breasts. Even though it is considered normal, there are a few things to know if you have dense breasts, according to Maui Health.
Having dense breast tissue can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer or other abnormalities. That’s because dense breast tissue appears white in the mammogram image, making it hard to see through.
“Doctors aren’t sure why, but having dense breast tissue can also increase your risk of developing breast cancer. The good news is, that it does not increase your risk of dying from breast cancer, and that is because you can catch abnormalities early through early detection with regular mammograms,” said Andrade.
Whether you have dense breasts or not, mammograms are still effective tools to screen for breast cancer, and 3-D mammography can be more effective at detecting abnormalities in dense breast tissue than older 2-D systems, according to Maui Health.
“Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend additional screening tools like a breast ultrasound, or a breast MRI,” said Andrade.
Maui Memorial Medical Center has a state-of-the-art 2-D, 3-D mammography system at its outpatient clinic just down the road from the main hospital. Patients do not need a doctor’s referral to get a screening mammogram.
“The best thing you can do for your health if you have dense breasts is to stay up to date with your regular doctor checkups, and screening mammograms or other diagnostic imaging recommended to you by your doctor for your age, and any underlying medical conditions.
For more information, visit mauihealth.org/imaging.