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Get the Facts About Dense Breast Tissue

Following your annual mammogram, you received a report from your doctor stating that you have dense breast tissue and may benefit from further breast cancer screening. What is dense breast tissue, and how can you determine if you’re at greater risk for breast cancer?

Your breasts contain several different types of tissue, including glandular, fatty and connective tissues. Women who have dense breasts have larger amounts of glandular and connective tissues in their breast.

A Hidden Concern

On a mammogram, fatty tissue appears clear, and connective and glandular tissues appear white. Dense breast tissue can mask breast cancer tumors because tumors also appear white on mammograms.

“Dense breast tissue is primarily defined by what is seen on a mammogram,” says Robin Skrine, M.D., F.A.C.S., medical director of the Breast Program at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth and surgeon with Lone Star Breast Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. “Basically, the best way to describe it is how cloudy the tissue appears. As women age, their breast tissue on mammograms typically becomes clearer like the night sky. When women have dense breasts, their breasts remain cloudy. Dense breasts make the breasts appear as if the tissue is maybe too thick for to see things, such as cancer, through.”

To help women make more informed decisions about their breast health, the Texas State Legislature passed House Bill No. 2102, also known as Henda’s Law, in 2011. Henda’s Law requires Texas mammography centers to notify women if they have dense breast tissue so they can receive other breast screenings as necessary. Henda Salmeron, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, developed and lobbied for Henda’s Law because she was not told she had dense breast tissue or that the tissue may reduce the effectiveness of her mammogram.

No Reason to Panic

If you receive notification that you have dense breast tissue, you may feel apprehensive. But it’s important to remember that a diagnosis of dense breast tissue doesn’t mean that you have cancer. Women who have dense breast tissue may have a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer, however, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about your breast cancer risk — especially if you have a family history of the disease.

“Women with dense breasts will need to talk to their doctors about the potential need for additional screenings,” Dr. Skrine says. “Some of the additional screening options for women with dense breasts would include ultrasound or breast MRI [magnetic resonance imaging]. One of the newer way of performing mammograms — 3-D mammography and breast tomosynthesis — is a better way to see through dense breast tissue.”

To schedule your mammogram at a Texas Health hospital near you, visit TexasHealth.org.

Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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