Breasts are made up of fat and non-fatty glandular and connective breast tissue. Some women have more fat than breast tissue, while others have more breast tissue than fat. Breasts that have higher proportion of the glandular tissue are described as “dense.”
Every woman’s breasts are different. Some are fatty, some are dense, and some are a mix. Approximately 46 percent of American women have dense breasts.
Breast density is not evident by feel or appearance. The only way to determine whether breasts have dense tissue is by evaluating a mammogram.
Who determines whether or not a woman has dense breasts?
The radiologist who looks at your mammogram classifies breast composition into one of four categories of increasing density:
- Predominantly fatty
- Scattered fibroglandular tissue
- Heterogeneously dense or
- Extremely dense
Dense breast tissue is a physical attribute like other features of the body. While breast density can’t be actively modified, it can change as a result of age, hormone levels and menopause. As women age, their breasts may become less dense. Extremely dense or heterogeneously dense tissue is present in more than half of women under age 50 and in only one-third of women age 50 or older.
Why does breast density matter?
Regardless of size or shape, women who have dense breasts have a greater risk of developing breast cancer than women with fatty breasts. Dense tissue may also obscure underlying abnormality, making it harder to detect early cancer. Looking for a tumor in mammography of dense breasts is like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm, because dense breast tissue looks white on the mammogram and masses or lumps also appear white. That’s why a cancer can easily hide in a background of dense tissue. Conversely, fatty breasts show up mostly black and grayish on a mammogram, so detection of a suspicious mass is more sensitive.
Diagnostic Imaging Services performs conventional 2D screening mammograms at all of our facilities. The 3D mammography technology is available in Metairie, Marrero, Slidell and Covington. For women with dense breasts, 3D mammograms are often recommended by health care providers.
DIS was the first independent radiology practice in Louisiana to offer 3D mammograms. For women with Medicare or Managed Medicare health insurance coverage or a few other insurance plans, the 3D portion of a screening mammogram is covered at 100%. For other insurance coverage or for those with no coverage, the 3D portion of a screening mammograms has a $60 fee.