Doctors say starting at age 40, women should start getting mammograms but for women with dense breasts, it might not be enough.
“Density refers to the appearance of the breast on mammography and the reason it’s important is that it can hide cancers on mammography which is the main way we detect breast cancer. And it also causes increased risk of breast cancer. So it’s a two fold problem,” explained Dr. Judy Dean, board certified radiologist.
Dr. Dean said the dense tissue can hide the cancer because it appears white on the imaging and so does the cancer. It makes it hard or even impossible to tell if a woman has cancer from just a mammogram. But an ultrasound can detect what a mammogram might miss.
However, the problem begins with women who don’t know they have dense breasts. Less thank 10 percent of women who have it know they do and it’s a big cancer risk factor.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with breast size, it doesn’t have anything to do with breast lumpiness. It has to do with how you breast appears on imaging,” said Dr. Dean.
A new bill, SB 1538, would make that information available to patients. Currently, the FDA requires letters to be sent out to women after a screening but breast density isn’t included in the medical information.
“This is information that women need to make correct decision about their health,” said the radiologist.
Dr. Dean has been informing her patients since 2005 and would like to see all California doctors let their patients know their risk.
Are you dense? Ask you doctor to see your last mammogram results. They will be able to tell you on a one to four scale if you have dense breasts.
Written by Victoria Sanchez