If you’ve been told that you have dense breasts, you might still wonder what this means for your health. And if you are a woman with breast implants, you might also question how this affects your mammograms and breast health.
Our expert, radiologist Amy Campbell, MD from Florida Hospital explains what you need to know.
Women’s breasts are composed of many different tissues, including fat, ligaments, glands and others. Dense breasts occur when a woman has a high ratio of ligaments and glands compared to fat in her breasts. If a woman has a high ratio of fat compared to everything else, the breasts are considered to be “fatty.”
“While younger women tend to have denser breasts, breast density is largely determined by your genetics,” says Dr. Campbell.
“The concern is that women who have dense breasts may be at an increased risk for breast cancer due to more hormonally-receptive tissue, and higher breast density can also make it more challenging to obtain mammogram images of all the breast tissue while also making it more difficult for radiologists to interpret them and identify earlier stage cancers,” explains Dr. Campbell.
Think of it this way:
If you are looking through a clear piece of glass, it is easy to see what’s on the other side. This is equivalent to having a fatty breast. However, if you look through a frosted piece of glass, it’s hard to tell what lies behind it. This is what happens with dense breasts.
“It’s important for women to know if they have dense breasts so they can make more informed decisions about protecting their health,” says Dr. Campbell.
For this reason, Dr. Campbell shares that the state of Florida recently enacted a law that requires imaging centers to notify women if they have dense breasts in their mammogram results letters.
“If you are told that you have dense breasts by your doctor or from your mammogram results, you can choose whether you would like to have further screenings, which for women of average risk would include screening breast ultrasound,” advises Dr. Campbell.
Additional screening can help put your mind at ease by adding another level of breast cancer surveillance.
Implants can make imaging all of the breast tissue through a mammogram more challenging. Age and placement of the implant can cause some of the breast tissue to be obscured in the mammogram images.
“Mammograms are safe for women with implants and is the number one recommended breast cancer screening measure, but for a women who have implants, we take a total of eight mammogram images instead of four compared to women without them,” says Dr. Campbell.
The mammogram technologist will take four images (two of each breast) as a standard mammogram, and then four additional pictures while gently manipulating the implant to image the breast tissue around it.
Support at Every Step
No matter what turns your breast health journey takes, Florida Hospital is your beacon for support and expert breast health care.
This is why we want to make it easier for you to get your annual mammogram. If you are age 40 and over, have not had any breast symptoms, and have not had a mammogram in the last year, you do not need a physician’s order to get a screening mammogram. Learn more and schedule your mammogram today.