The Mammo Minute: What exams are there for dense breasts?

Dr. Arthy Saravanan addresses the important question: “What exams are there for dense breasts?”

Hi, my name is Dr. Arthy Saravanan. I’m the Chief of the Breast Imaging Section at ARA.

Welcome to the Mammo Minute.

Today’s question is, “What exams are there for dense breasts?”

We’re going to talk about dense breasts and the exams radiologists use to see through dense breast tissue.

First, what are dense breasts, and why do they make cancer screening more difficult?

Breast tissue consists of milk glands, milk ducts, supportive tissue, and fatty tissue. Supportive tissue or fibro glandular
tissue appears solid white on mammograms. We call that dense breast tissue, and it makes it difficult for breast radiologists to see through it.

About half of all women screened have dense breast tissue. So, having dense breasts increases the chance that cancer may go undetected on your mammogram, and it also increases your risk for breast cancer.

If you have dense breast tissue, your healthcare provider or radiologist may recommend that you have additional imaging. Both ultrasound and MRI are good at seeing through dense breast tissue. Ultrasound imaging for dense breasts is generally covered by insurance. Having an ultrasound can catch 2 to 4 additional cancers per 1000 women.

MRI can detect 14 additional cancers per 1000 women. It is a higher-cost exam and is generally not covered for dense breasts alone. However, if your breast cancer risk profile is 25% above average or more, many insurance groups will cover this exam.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your breast density. Your mammogram report from ARA will always have information about the density of your breast, and that will help guide you and your provider in deciding whether or not to have imaging beyond the screening mammogram.

That’s all for today. Thank you for tuning into the Mammo Minute. And don’t forget to schedule your mammogram!

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