What Does It Mean to Have Dense Breasts?
When journalist and anti-cancer activist Katie Couric announced in September that she was being treated for breast cancer, women took notice.
Couric said she had been treated successfully and should be fine. But she urged women not to fall behind on getting their annual mammograms, as she had.
She also mentioned one detail that has prompted anxious phone calls to some Einstein Healthcare Network doctors. Couric said she had been getting an annual ultrasound as well as a mammogram because she has dense breasts.
“I’ve had several patients already calling about the Couric breast thing, and they all want an ultrasound, too,” says Archit Naik, MD, Director of Breast Surgery and Women’s Health at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery in East Norriton.
Einstein doctors involved in breast cancer screening and treatment emphasized that having dense breasts does not mean you are going to develop breast cancer.
“Dense breast tissue is extremely common,” says Elena Lamb, MD, a breast surgeon at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. “It’s not abnormal, but it can make your mammogram harder to evaluate.”
So it’s important to know whether you have dense breasts and how that and other factors – for example, a family history of breast cancer – may affect your own risk.
Einstein breast surgeons and a radiologist recommend that women with dense breasts consult with their doctors about whether to have any extra screening beyond an annual mammogram. They offer the following answers to some common questions about breast density.
Dr. Jablon says women shouldn’t be anxious if they have dense breasts. “I think it would be important to talk with your primary doctor or your gynecologist about assessing your risk, and that’s based on a lot of factors.”
“If it’s high, though, then you probably should do high-risk screening, and have your doctor send you for MRI as well as mammograms.”
Learn more about mammography at Einstein.