It's Not All About Body Shape or Size

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Going in for their first mammograms, women tend to hear a term they're not very familiar with: "Dense breast tissue."

Dense breast tissue means you have more of the fibrous and glandular tissue in your breasts than you do fat. Perhaps surprisingly, this has nothing to do with your body shape or breast size. It does, however, affect your risk and detection, said Dr. Ben Durkee, oncologist with SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center.

Here are four things to know about dense breast tissue:   

  • Some women with dense breast tissue are at a slightly higher risk for breast cancer. In addition to the higher risk, detection is much more difficult because cancer could blend in with dense tissue.   
  • Breast density can only be determined after you have a mammogram by the overall contrast of the images. "Some women think that because their breasts are firm, they are dense," Durkee said. "That's not the case. The radiologist determines how dense your breasts are by the overall contrast of the mammogram images."   
  • Breast density is inherited, and can change. If your mother has dense breasts, it's likely you will also. Additionally, many women have dense breasts in their 20's and 30's, but the dense tissue is replaced by fat as they age.   
  • There are additional tests to help screen for breast cancer.

"Talk to your provider to see if any additional tests might be beneficial besides a yearly mammogram," Durkee said.

Dr. Ben Durkee is an oncologist with SwedishAmerican Regional Cancer Center.