Doctors consider breast density when analyzing mammograms
When doctors analyze a mammogram, one thing they consider is density. As a radiologist, Dr. Steven Sotile has analyzed thousands of images, looking for potential spots of cancer. But the more dense a breast is, the more white it appears on a mammogram.
"Trying to see a white mass on a white background becomes difficult," Dr. Sotile said.
About half of women have breasts considered "fatty" or "low density". 40 percent have heterogeneous breasts, which are more dense. That means a slight increase in cancer risk. The last 10 percent of women have extremely dense breasts and some studies show their risk for cancer is doubled.
"It's more likely to be lumpy, bumpy, nodular, and those can make it more difficult in a sense that they think they feel something," breast surgical oncologist Dr. Mindy Williams Bowie said.
As of 2016, Louisiana is one of 28 states with laws requiring doctors explain your density during your mammogram. And though you cannot change the makeup of your breasts, you can lower you risk factors, like losing weight and limiting alcohol.
"I think it's good for patients to be aware of their breast density, if anything it helps them that they need to be proactive and keep a healthy lifestyle to decrease their risk of cancer," Dr. Sotile said.
3D mammograms can give a clearer look inside dense tissue. Your doctor may also ask for another view.
"If a woman has dense breasts oftentimes they will have an ultrasound supplemented with their mammogram," Dr. Williams Bowie said.
The good news is that doctors know what they are looking for, and whether dense or not, the best defense is regular screen and education.
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