Virginia Law now requires reporting of breast tissue density along with findings on mammography.
This information has long been reported to your health provider and they can assist you in what that may mean for you. Essentially, there is a normal range of tissue density seen on mammograms that may fluctuate from year to year but tends to decline with age. While denser tissue is very common and not abnormal, it can provide useful information to the patient and the referring clinician to improve care. Women with denser tissue may be somewhat more likely to develop cancer over their lifetime and the ability to detect cancer mammographically may be slightly diminished. How significant this impact may be and what can be done about it are still active areas of investigation.
Our goal in providing information directly to patients is to empower women to optimize early detection. There is currently a lot of conflicting information presented in the media and on the internet including promotion of tests that have been shown to elevate a woman’s risk of unnecessary biopsy and costly additional testing, but it is important to remember that mammography is still the single best test we have to detect cancer at its earliest stages. This holds true even in women with denser breast tissue. In fact, it is likely most vital that these women have their examinations performed yearly. These women will likely benefit the most from self breast examination and annual physician examination as this enables addition of directed ultrasound to areas of concern. If you have additional reasons to believe you are at elevated risk, please talk with your doctor about a “formal risk assessment” as studies suggest that women with an elevated lifetime risk over 20% may benefit from additional screening methods such as breast MRI.
Additional links and resources you may find helpful:
The death rate from breast cancer in the United States, which had remained virtually unchanged for more than 50 years, began a reversal around 1989 in direct correlation with an increase in the number of screening mammograms. This steady rate of decline has continued with the largest decrease occurring among younger women. Recent data suggests that mammograms may even be more effective than previously thought, reducing breast cancer mortality by more than 30-60 percent. Despite this, only slightly more than half of women choose to have an annual mammogram!