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Health column: Why breast density matters

in Health/News

This content is sponsored by Ascension Wisconsin

Regular mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early. But, if your mammogram report says you have dense breast tissue – you may wonder what this means.

According to the American College of Radiology, dense breast tissue is found in almost 40 percent of women and is a completely normal finding. Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Breasts are considered dense if there is a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat.

“Dense breast tissue makes it harder for radiologists to detect cancer,” said Heidi Heise, a family medicine nurse practitioner at Ascension Medical Group at Westwood, Wausau. “On mammograms, dense breast tissue looks white, and potentially cancerous masses also look white – so the density can hide the tumors, making it more challenging to find cancer cells.”

If your mammogram shows that you have dense breast tissue, Heise says it’s important to talk to your primary care clinician to determine the best screening options for you based on your family history and other risk factors.

Additional screening options may include:

  • Whole-breast ultrasound
  • Abbreviated breast MRI (AB-MRI)
  • 3D mammograms

In 2017, Wisconsin Act 201 was passed and went into effect on April 3, 2018. This law requires healthcare providers in the state that perform mammography screenings to send notice to any patient identified with dense breast tissue.

This effort has raised awareness of mammography results and increased the opportunity for discussion about the best screening options and risk factors between women and their primary care clinician.

 

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