What’s All the Fuss about Breast Density?

Breast density is a phrase that is becoming more and more popular in women’s health discussions. Currently, 18 states have passed laws requiring physicians speak to women with dense breasts and inform them of the possible associated risks, and five additional states have legislation that is still in active session. This legislation, along with recent clinical studies suggesting new methods of screening might be needed for women with dense breasts, have many people wondering what exactly ‘breast density’ is?

Breasts are made of breast tissue, connective tissue and fat. Breast density is a measurement of the breast and connective tissue to fat ratio. Women with more fat than tissue are considered to have low density breasts while women with more tissue than fat are considered to have high density breasts. Breast density can also change over time; younger women tend to have denser breasts.

Mammography Showing Varying Brest Density

Photo courtesy of Susan G. Komen.

 

Now that we know what breast density is why does it matter?

Breast density is important for a number of reasons. It is harder for a radiologist to interpret mammography images for women higher breast density. On a mammographic image, fat in the breast appears dark while tissues are either light gray or white. However, cancerous areas are also white. Because dense tissue can mask cancer studies have indicated that as much as 35% of breast cancer in women with dense breasts goes undetected. And according to the Susan G. Komen website:

Women with high breast density (as seen on a mammogram) are four to five times more likely to get breast cancer than women with low breast density.

Several vendors offer breast density assessment solutions such as Hologic’s Quantra Breast Density Assessment Software, Matakina Technology’s VolparaDensity and VuCOMP’s M-Vu Breast Density to name a few. MD Buyline user activity in this area is low but with states continuing to implement laws regarding breast density and clinical studies suggesting women with dense breast could benefit from 3D tomosynthesis, which has been shown to find more invasive cancers than traditional 2D mammography, I expect we will see women’s health centers seek to improve breast density assessments.

Rachael Bennett, BHS, R.T. (R)(T)
ABOUT THIS EXPERT
Rachael Bennett, BHS, R.T. (R)(T), Clinical Analyst — Ms. Bennett joined MD Buyline in 2008 with seven years of clinical experience in the medical field. Ms. Bennett is the primary clinical analyst for linear accelerators, stereotactic radiosurgery, mammography systems, biopsy systems and other radiation oncology and women’s health capital equipment codes. She graduated from Baylor Allied Health School with a major in radiography and went on to specialize in radiation therapy at Washburn University. She currently holds registries as both a radiographer and radiation therapist through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT).