What do dense breasts mean for cancer risk?

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Breast cancer risk is influenced by many things, including heredity, age and gender. Breast density is another factor that may affect cancer risk and the ability to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages, say some experts.
According to the report, “Mammographic density and the risk and detection of breast cancer,” published by The New England Journal of Medicine, as well as data from the National Cancer Institute, women with high breast density are four to five times more likely to get breast cancer. Only age and BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations increase risk more. However, at this time, health care providers do not routinely use a woman’s breast density to assess her breast cancer risk, according to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Density does not refer to the size or shape of the breast, and it may not be apparent by just looking at the breasts. Usually women do not learn they have dense breasts until their first mammograms. Dense breasts have more glandular and fibrous tissue. Density may be hereditary, meaning mothers and daughters can share similar breast characteristics.
Dense breasts cannot easily be seen through on a mammogram, which can make detecting lumps and other abnormalities more difficult. This can lead to missed cancers or cancers that are discovered at later stages. Women with dense breasts may require additional screening methods, such as a breast ultrasound or an MRI, in addition to yearly mammogram screenings.
Education about breast density is gaining traction in some areas, thanks to informed women and advocacy groups like AreYouDense.org. Some states in the United States are part of “inform” lists, in which radiologists include information about breast density on mammogram reports so women and doctors can make decisions about extra testing.
Even if a woman does not live in a state where density is shared, she can request the information from the radiologist or doctor. Dense breasts show up with more pockets of white on mammograms than gray fatty tissue in less dense breasts. Cancer also appears white, and, therefore, tumors can be hidden.
In addition to more in-depth screenings, women with dense breasts can lower cancer risk by following these guidelines:
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Eat nutritious food.
• Exercise regularly.
• Never smoke or quit immediately.
• Limit alcohol consumption.
• Ask for digital mammography.
Women can consider breast density with other risk factors in the fight against breast cancer.

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