From One Dense Person to the Next
A little over a year ago, I had a mammogram. I was left alone with my films for a few minutes — what I saw scared me. There were one or two black spots on an otherwise white breast. Knowing very little about mammogram films, I thought for sure the black spots were tumors. The doctor came in and explained the opposite. Bright, white spots, generally, indicate tumors. My heart dropped, but she told me that, despite the way my films looked, it was unlikely I had tumors throughout my chest. My breast tissue, she said, was so dense that they were impossible to read. She called in a second doctor. Neither of them could “read” my boobs. I would require more testing and a doctor, who specialized in dense breast tissue.
Breast tissue density is based on the amount of connective tissue compared to the amount of fat in your breast. The more tissue, the higher the density. Younger women, often, have higher density (which is one reason why mammograms are not encouraged in younger women). Women with high density are four to five times more likely to get cancer than women with low density. It can make detecting cancer very difficult. It is incredibly important that you speak with your doctor about breast density.
There has been a (relatively) recent grass roots movement in the state legislatures to require imaging centers to send a letter to their patients with dense breast tissue, informing them of the additional risk and concerns. Click here to read about this law. At this point, there are twelve states with breast density laws: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
There is a great website/organization that caters to breast density: Are You Dense. If you have any questions about your risk, or what to do if you have dense breast tissue, go to their site. It is very informative. To learn more about the modifications you will need to make to your early detection methods, check out this article in the Huffington Post. Dr. David Katz interviews the founder of Are You Dense about how prevalent and important the issue of breast density is.
The key to being an empowered patient is to understand your personal risk and know your own body. Breast density is one of many factors to consider in your education.