There was an article in today’s US News and World Report about dense breasts called Dense Breasts May Be Linked to Cancer Recurrence. It reports on a Swedish study, presented on Wednesday at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Vienna, that found that women with dense breasts had nearly twice the risk of recurrence, either in the same breast or in surrounding lymph nodes, than women with less dense breasts. I’m still so interested in this whole breast density thing, since I never even knew I had dense breasts until I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. During the many mammograms I’ve had over the years, not one doctor ever told me that I had dense breasts, until it came up during my bc diagnosis.
The Swedish study shows that women with a PD (percentage density) of 25% or more have an almost twofold increased risk of recurrence in the breast and surrounding lymph nodes than women with a PD of less than 25%.
Some good news – the Swedish study found that breast density does NOT increase the risk of mestastasis, and also has no negative effect on survival. The study reviewed mammograms and treatment results for almost 1,800 postmenopausal women (ages 50-74) from a large study of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Sweden between 1993 and 1995. It also suggests that breast density should be taken into account when determining adjuvant (secondary, i.e. chemo or radiation) treatment and follow up routines if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.
I just think we should know this stuff about our own bodies. Since it’s not legally required that doctors tell you if you have dense breasts (for no valid reason that I can figure), I would encourage women to ask for their breast percentage density (PD) when they get their annual mammogram.
If your doctor tells you that you do have dense breasts, I strongly recommend that you ask them to help you create a personal screening plan to ensure that you are being as vigilant as possible regarding your breast health. One of the concerns with dense breasts is that it’s harder to find a lump in a breast that is dense as they may not show up in your regular mammogram. I can state that as a fact, given my own situation. A breast MRI is highly sensitive and will pick up almost any tumor (although you should also know that they often show false positives).
One of my favorite breast cancer sites Breastcancer.org (so very helpful and informative) suggests that you and your doctor develop a personal screening plan to include:
- A monthly breast self-exam
- A yearly breast exam by your doctor
- A digital mammogram* every year starting at age 40
*Digital mammography is better than film mammography in women with dense breasts, regardless of age.
Your personal screening plan also may include the following tests to detect any cancer as early as possible:
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) of the breast
- Ultrasound of the breast
Information is power, and I hope that you women reading find this information helpful and are motivated to ask the right questions of your doctors so that you will have the care that you deserve.