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Those darned dense breasts

Women, do you know how dense your breasts are?

If you've had a mammogram in recent years -- and you have, right? -- you may well have been told that your breast tissue is dense -- or not. "Breast density" refers to the relative proportion of dense material -- glandular tissue and fibrous tissues -- to fat in your breasts. The dense material shows up light on X-rays (mammograms), and mammograms of dense breasts are harder for radiologists to read. If your breasts are on the dense side, your physician may have ordered a breast MRI or ultrasound in addition to your regular mammogram to detect abnormalities that the mammogram cannot.

Mammogram films (Julia Ewan/TWP)

There's now new cause to be aware of how dense your breast tissue is: A study published this morning in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention shows that among women who have had breast cancer, higher breast density appears to raise the risk of a subsequent breast cancer, especially in the breast that was not affected by the first cancer. The study bolsters earlier research linking breast density and cancer risk.

The thing about breast density is that there's no way to gauge it on your own: It has nothing to do with the way your breasts look or feel. The only way to determine how dense your breasts are is to ask your doctor or radiologist, who records the information when reading your mammogram. Some states recently have begun requiring breast density information to be shared with patients.

October is, as you could hardly avoid knowing, breast cancer awareness month. Even if you feel pretty aware of breast cancer, now might be a good time to ask your doctor how dense your breasts are and how that might affect your own cancer risk.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | October 7, 2010; 12:05 AM ET
Categories:  breast cancer, Women's Health  
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