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This week Katie Couric revealed that she has breast cancer and that she also has dense breasts. Why is it important to know if you have dense breasts?
In an essay on her website, Couric explained that she was only 6 months overdue for her annual mammogram when in June, a mammogram uncovered cancer. She also explained that she typically has a mammogram and an ultrasound because she has dense breasts.
Mammograms are an important early detection tool – and the best screening option – for breast cancer. During your mammogram your doctor will be able to learn more about your breasts, such as the density of your breast tissue. If it’s discovered during your mammogram that you have dense breast tissue, what does it mean?
Dense breast tissue refers to the mixture of fibrous, glandular tissue and fatty tissue within the breast. Breast tissue is considered dense if you have more of the fibrous and glandular tissue, but not much fat.
Georgia Spear, MD Division Chief of Breast Imaging at NorthShore, provides the following information about dense breast tissue:
Dense breast tissue can only be seen on mammograms. While common (and normal), dense breast tissue cannot be determined on your own by touch or feel. It is also not related to breast size. Dense breast tissue is easily identified on mammograms because it appears differently than non-dense tissue. NorthShore patients will be notified in writing if you have dense breast tissue. You will be informed that you have dense breast tissue within the result letter that is sent to the address you provided to central registration.
It is more common in some women. Dense breast tissue is more likely to be found in women in their 40s and 50s and premenopausal women.
Those with dense breast tissue may have a slight increased risk of cancer. Though the reason for the link is unclear, but it is advised that those with dense breast tissue may need additional types of imaging, e.g. ultrasound.
Breast cancer tumors/masses can be harder to detect on mammograms in women with dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram; the same is true for all tumors and masses. This can make it difficult to distinguish healthy tissue from tumor/mass.
If you have dense breast tissue, you should talk with your physician about whole breast ultrasound. Together, you and your physician can determine if any additional screening is right for you.
You can also make an appointment in the High Risk Breast Program to schedule a personalized breast risk assessment. Your physician and the staff in the High Risk Breast Program at NorthShore can determine which screenings are appropriate for you.
When was your last mammogram? Do you have your next one scheduled? Visit NorthShore’s Center for Breast Health for more information or schedule your screening as you normally would on NorthShoreConnect or by calling 888.364.6400.