Breast density is an important factor in determining a woman’s overall breast health and breast cancer risk.  Sonya Kella, MD, medical director for breast imaging with Adventist HealthCare, answers common questions about breast density and how it affects your breast health.

Q- What does it mean to have dense breasts?

Dr. Kella – Dense breasts simply means you have more fibrous and glandular tissue than fat. Having dense breasts is common, affecting about half of women over 40. Having dense breasts does make it more challenging to detect breast abnormalities during a mammogram.

Q- How can I find out whether my breasts are dense?

Dr. Kella – Breast density cannot be determined based on physical appearance or the feel of your breasts. It can only be detected by mammography. After a radiologist views your images, they can determine how dense your breasts are and will include that information in your report.

Q- Are certain women more likely to have dense breasts?

Dr. Kella – Breast density can be influenced by several factors. In many cases, having dense breasts is an inherited trait, but postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy and having a low body mass index can increase your risk. Also, women are more likely to have dense breasts when they are younger. They will often lose this density as they age.   

Q- Why does having dense breasts increase my risk of breast cancer?

Dr. Kella – Studies have shown a link between dense breasts and breast cancer, but the reason for this is not entirely clear. Since dense breasts can mask abnormalities, I recommend these women opt for a 3D mammogram. 3D mammograms show breast tissue one layer at a time and abnormalities can be detected easier in all women, especially in women with dense breasts.  Your doctor may recommend additional screening options if you have dense breasts, including a breast ultrasound.

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