By naturopath Margaret Jasinska
Did you know that women with higher breast density are at greater risk of breast cancer? It is actually one of the biggest cancer risk factors, more significant than family history, yet very few women are aware of this fact.
A mammogram is the only way to know your breast density. It is estimated that more than 40 percent of Australian women aged forty to sixty five have high breast density. These women are two to six times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with low mammographic breast density.
What is breast density?
Dense breasts are breasts that have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue, such as glands that make and drain milk.
How would you know if you have dense breasts?
A mammogram is the only way to be certain. A mammogram done on a woman with dense breasts appears a lot like white cotton wool. In a woman with less dense breasts, the mammogram appears more grey and transparent. Breast density shows up as white and bright regions. Unfortunately potential tumours are also shown as white and bright on a mammogram. This means, with current screening methods it’s harder to see tumours in breasts with denser tissue on a mammogram. Therefore there’s a higher risk that these women’s tumours may be missed at the time of screening. A newer type of mammogram called a 3D mammogram is better able to determine breast density, but this type of mammography is only offered in a select few centres in Australia.
Currently no single method for measuring breast density has been agreed upon in the medical community. Breast density can’t be assessed based on how breasts feel during a self-exam or a doctor’s physical exam. However, breast density does reduce significantly after menopause, and this is a time when breasts become softer. Therefore firmer feeling breasts often have a higher density.