Dense Breasts on Mammogram

Dense Breasts?  Isn’t that good?  Doesn’t that make them seem firm and perky?

Pink towel around women
A woman waiting to get her mammogram


Dense Breasts on your Mammogram Report?

So, you just got your mammogram report from your doctor and she said, “Your mammogram is normal,” and you breathe a sigh of relief.  Then you are hit with another statement, “But, you have Dense Breasts.”  Wait. What? What does that mean? Am I OK?  What do I do? 

This is a phone call that over 40% of women get from their physicians.  What you need to know is that dense breast tissue is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer.  Dense breast tissue can make it difficult to detect breast cancer on mammography.


Cancer of the Breast
Image of Breast Cancer within a woman’s breast


There are 4 possible tissue categories reported in mammogram reports:

  1.     Fatty breasts
  2.     Scattered fibroglandular densities
  3.     Heterogeneously dense
  4.     Extremely dense


If you have a finding of (#3) heterogeneously dense breasts or (#4) extremely dense tissue category your mammogram report will say that you have “Dense Breasts.”

Breasts have gland tissue, fibrous tissue, and fatty tissue.   If you have lots of gland and fibrous tissue, they are considered “dense.” More than 20 states have passed laws that require radiologists to inform women of this finding, have them talk to the physician that ordered the mammogram, and possibly get more imaging.



So, what will your physician do?  He or she will take into account your:


Obviously, the older that you are, the higher your risk of developing breast cancer.  One out of eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.  Unfortunately, it is a common cancer.  If you have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your risks will be greater.  If you have had one or more breast biopsies, your risk will also increase.  If you have never had children or if you had children late in life, your risk also increases.

Breast Cancer Stages
Stages of Breast Cancer


This information (and additional information) can be plugged into a computer model to see if you are considered high risk for breast cancer.  There are three common computer models used:


If you are considered high-risk, an ultrasound or an MRI may be ordered.  Ultrasound of the breasts helps detect more cancers and is routinely ordered in this instance.  An MRI will detect the greatest number of cancers, but is:

  1. very expensive,
  2. takes a long time to perform, and
  3. is not usually covered by insurance.


    Woman getting a Mammogram

MRI will be covered by most insurance companies if:

Discussion of your risks and options with your healthcare provider is imperative if you have a diagnosis of “dense breasts.”

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