You have probably heard about heterogeneously dense breasts and may be wondering what it is. We are here to unravel that for you. Let's begin by telling you what your breasts are made up of.
Breasts consist of fibrous tissues, fatty tissues, and glandular tissues. The glandular tissues are responsible for producing milk, while the fibrous tissues form the connectivity network on your breasts. People with heterogeneously dense breasts have more glandular and fibrous tissues and fewer fatty tissues.
If you have heterogeneously dense breasts, your doctor may tell you that you have fibroglandular tissue, meaning the fibrous and glandular tissues make up the largest composition of your breast. Your heterogeneously dense breasts do not indicate that you have a medical condition. If you have them, you are normal, just like the women who do not have them.
How Do I Know I Have Heterogeneously Dense Breasts?
Heterogeneously dense breasts do not depend on the size or firmness of your breasts. You cannot tell that your breasts are dense by looking or touching them. They are detected through a mammogram test.
During a mammogram test, your fatty tissues will appear darker. The fibrous and glandular or your dense tissues will appear white on a mammograph. If the doctor tells you that you have dense tissues, that should not alarm you. About 50% of women who take a mammogram test find out that their breast tissues are dense.
Is It Important to Know If You Have Heterogeneously Dense Breasts?
Every woman needs to find out if she has dense breast tissues for the following reasons:
- Dense tissues increase your risk of breast cancer. The more dense tissues you have, the higher your risk of breast cancer is.
Experts report that breast cancer cells develop on your glandular cells. The more glandular cells you have, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer. Fibrous tissues may also contribute to this risk since they produce growth factors that help your glandular tissues to grow and multiply.
However, dense tissues are not the only predisposing factor. They should be considered alongside other risk factors like your family history, age, lifestyle, and if you have a history of biopsies.
- Heterogeneously dense tissues make it harder for mammogram tests to pick existing breast cancer cells. During a mammogram test, dense tissues appear white.
Cancer cells also appear white when seen under a mammogram. Your radiologists may think that the white spots on your mammogram are dense tissues and miss identifying cancer cells behind the dense tissues.
About 40% of women who show dense tissues on their mammogram images test positive for breast cancer after about a year. The cancer cells may have been present, but the radiologist may have failed to identify them.
How is Breast Density Measured?
A mammogram machine has an attached Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS). This is the standard image reporting system developed by the American College of Radiology.
On a scale of 1 to 6, the system records if there is any unusual finding, the nature of what was found and if what was detected is cancerous(malignant) or non-cancerous(benign). If the system gives you a zero report, it indicates that you need further examination.
BI-RADS reports breast density on a scale of A to D. Here is what each letter represents:
A-Mostly fatty: Your breasts have more fatty tissues than fibrous and glandular tissues. This happens to about 10% of women.
B- Scattered fibroglandular densities: Your breasts have more fatty tissues and a considerable quantity of fibroglandular tissues. 40% of women have scattered fibroglandular densities.
C- Heterogeneously dense: The image shows a large percentage of fibroglandular tissues. This appears in about 40% of women.
D- Extreme density: Women with extremely dense breasts show a higher percentage of fibroglandular tissues than fatty tissues. They make up about 10% of women who undertake a mammogram test.
C and D scores indicate dense breasts. However, sometimes radiologists may report inconsistent scores for the same woman. To avoid this, breast imaging centers, like The Breast Center, are combining mammogram tests with automated software for breast imaging. The software gives more accurate and consistent breast imaging results.
Breast Screening Alternatives for Women with Dense Breasts
A mammogram may not identify cancer cells in women with breast cancer. However, other screening methods post more accurate breast screening results for them.
One of them is digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT). Some imaging centers refer to it as 3D mammography. The Breast Center is one of the best places to go for your 3D test. They have private, safe and, secure clinics manned by highly qualified, professional, and friendly staff.
3D Mammography works more like a CT scan that shows slices of tissues, peeling each upper layer to reveal what is underneath it. If you have dense breasts, the 3D mammogram can read what lies beneath the white fibroglandular tissues and identify existing cancer cells.
If your breasts are extremely dense, you may consider a more explicit test like a breast MRI or ultrasound during your annual routine tests. Your doctor may recommend supplemental breast cancer screening for you if your breasts are extremely dense.
Supplemental screening may not be necessary for your routine screening. You may need it as a follow-up test to your 2D or 3D tests. However, discuss this with your doctor so that you can consider other risk factors.
Does Insurance Cover 3D Mammography and Supplemental Screening?
Your insurance policy may not cover supplemental screening. Before taking supplemental tests, discuss with your health insurance provider to find out if they cover such tests.
What Other Steps Can You Take?
You can maintain healthy breasts whether you have dense breasts or not. Here are some of the steps you can take to maintain healthy breasts:
- Keep up with your annual breast screening. If possible, go to a center where they have a 3D mammography option.
- Take regular self-examinations to detect changes in the size, color, or shape of your breasts.
- Adopt a lifestyle that supports healthy breasts.
Are you looking for a comfortable, safe, and secure woman's clinic? The Breast Center is the place for you if you reside in Jackson, Mississippi. We have been serving women since 1950, providing them high-quality care, including 3D breast screening. We offer same-day and 24/7 nurse availability. Call us and schedule an appointment.