New Mammogram Technology for Dense Breast Tissue[Originally posted July 6th, 2015. Updated October 12th, 2016] For women with dense breasts, a Pennsylvania law could be life-changing. Though many women are unaware of this fact, dense breasts make cancer screening more difficult, as mammograms may not detect tumors as clearly as they do for typical breasts. Failing to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis of cancer is more common than you may think. The best defense is to have as much knowledge on the subject as possible.
Dense breast tissue refers to connective tissue, as opposed to the fat that typically makes up most of the breast. On traditional mammograms, dense tissue shows up as a solid white area, as X-rays cannot penetrate the tissue as well. As cancerous tissue also shows up as a white area, those mammogram results can be relatively difficult to interpret.
Pennsylvania Law Requires Doctors to Inform Women With Dense Breasts of Their Options for Cancer Screening
A law passed in 2013 in Pennsylvania mandates that doctors let patients know if they have dense breasts and about the associated difficulty of early detection. This law will help doctors fulfill their responsibility to provide patients with the best possible care.
Despite the extra challenge when it comes to cancer screening, dense breasts are completely normal, and new technology is emerging to take care of women who have them. Digital mammograms, rather than those that use film, are known to be better at penetrating dense breast tissue.
A newer development is an automated ultrasound (breast tomosynthesis) that can take a three-dimensional image of breast tissue. This layering of images gives a much clearer picture of dense breast tissue. The new mammograms are not a replacement for standard mammograms, but rather a supplement. When added to screening procedures, studies estimate that these 3D mammograms increase the rate of early cancer detection by about a third.
It’s important for all women to talk to their doctors about breast-cancer screening. Typically, women should get annual mammograms starting at age 40, though specific patients may have different needs. For women with dense breasts, these measures are especially important, as their risk of getting breast cancer is elevated by four to six times. New screening technologies could be key in improving outcomes for these women.
How To Do An At-Home Breast Exam
Mammograms aren’t the only way to detect early signs of cancer. At-home breast examinations are also an important tool. An earlier diagnosis usually means a better prognosis, so it’s important to be proactive. To perform an at-home breast exam, take the following steps:
- Breast self-exams are most effective if you do them frequently enough to know how your breasts normally look and feel, so make sure you know you your body well enough to have a good baseline reading.
- Starting off with a visual exam, face a mirror with your shoulders straight and your hands on your hips. Look at your breasts for any recent changes in size, shape or color. Also look for dimpling or any other distortion of the skin, changes to the appearance of your nipples (including discharge/blood when you’re not nursing), or red patches. Repeat this process with your arms raised above your head.
- Lie down and feel your breasts. Put your fingers together, keep them flat, and use a firm touch in a circular motion on all parts of your breasts. Repeat this process standing up.
- If you feel anything out of the ordinary, like lumps or hard areas, be sure to talk to your doctor. Early detection and treatment is key to saving lives.
- CBS Philadelphia: Health: New Technology Helps Doctors Uncover Breast Cancer That Can Be Difficult To Detect
- Mayo Clinic: Mammogram: Expert Answers
- American Cancer Society: Breast Cancer Facts & Figures 2013-2014
- American Cancer Society: Breast Awareness and Self-Exam
- org: The Five Steps of a Breast Self-Exam