Doctors recommend regular mammograms as a tool for the early detection of breast cancer. However, mammograms can be an ineffective means of diagnosing cancer in some women.
How does breast density affect missed and misdiagnosis of breast cancer?
What does breast density mean?
Breast density refers to the type of tissue that makes up the breast. Breast tissue contains ducts, lobules and fibrous and fatty connective tissue. Women have different ratios of fatty tissue to fibrous and glandular tissue. The more fibrous and glandular tissue there is, the harder it is to see cancerous growths on mammograms.
How do you know what your breast density is?
Many radiologists now include breast density information on mammogram reports. If it is not listed on your report, you can ask. There are four categories:
- Almost all fatty tissue
- Scattered areas of dense tissue
- More dense tissue than fatty tissue
- Extremely dense
Mammograms are more effective for women who have breasts that are almost all or mostly fatty tissue. The more dense tissue a woman has, the more difficult it is to see an abnormal growth on a mammogram.
How can I avoid missed or misdiagnosis if I have dense breasts?
Experts do not currently agree on whether women with dense breast tissue should use additional screening tools, such as 3D mammography, magnetic resonance imaging or breast ultrasound. However, women who have dense breast tissue should be vigilant about checking for and reporting any changes in their breasts.
While the medical community is more aware of the risk of missed or misdiagnosis in women with dense breast tissue, women must still be their own advocates and demand additional testing when they suspect something is wrong.