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Does Having A Dense Breast Increase The Risk Of Breast Cancer?

Medically reviewed by Mae Charisse Antalan, MD · General Practitioner


Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Mar 13, 2023

Does Having A Dense Breast Increase The Risk Of Breast Cancer?

Most people hear the term “suspicious densities”in association with chest X-ray results. But, is this term also applicable when we talk about breast cancer? Learn more about breast density and breast cancer here. 

Types of Tissue in Human Breast

The breast consists of three types of tissues:

  • Fibrous tissue, which holds the breast tissue in place. 
  • Glandular tissue, consisting of the lobes that make milk and the ducts that carry milk out of the breast. 
  • Fatty tissue, which gives the breast its size and shape as it fills the gap between the fibrous and glandular tissue. 

Note: Together, fibrous and glandular tissue are referred to as fibroglandular tissue. 

What Does it Mean io Have a Dense Breast?

Considering the types of tissue in the breast, what does it mean to have a dense breast? 

A woman can learn of their breast density through a mammogram test. Basically, breast density points to the amount of fibroglandular tissue compared to the fat tissue. The more fibroglandular tissue you have, the more dense your breasts are. 

In a mammograph, the doctor will categorize your breasts into one of these categories:

  • Breasts that are entirely fatty
  • There are few scattered densities throughout the breasts
  • Breasts that are evenly dense 
  • Breasts that are extremely dense 

The first two are collectively called fatty breast, low-density, or a non-dense breast. The last two, on the other hand, are described as high-density or dense breasts. 

Is Breast Density Connected to Breast Cancer?

One might think that having a dense breast is good. After all, many people think of fatty tissue as unhealthy. However, that’s not the case when it comes to breasts. 

When doctors see a dense breast on a mammogram, they might not say the term “suspicious densities,” but they will ask you to be vigilant. You see, increased breast density can be worrying because:

  • It increases your risk of breast cancer, although experts are not sure how. 
  • It can “hide” or “mask” breast cancer, which means if you have breast cancer, it might go undetected in a mammograph because you have dense breasts. 

For context, fatty tissues show as black shapes in a mammogram result. Fibroglandular tissue, on the other hand, show up as white densities – just like a tumor. 

Who Are More Likely to Have Dense Breasts?

As of now, it’s not yet clear why some women have more dense breasts than others. However, experts have pointed out that the following may be risk factors for having high-density breasts:

  • Age – Breast density tends to decrease with age. 
  • Body Mass Index – Women with lower BMI tend to have dense breasts than women who are obese. 
  • Hormone replacement therapyMenopausal women who receive HRT to address the symptoms of their menopause may have more dense breasts. 

When to Be Suspicious of Breast Cancer

Only a mammogram can detect “suspicious densities.” Once you reach the age of 40, ask your doctor about having a mammograph. 

Depending on your risk factors, they might postpone the test until you’re 45 or 50 or proceed with it right away. Results will dictate how often you need the test or if you need further testing (such as when you have dense breasts).  

Be on the lookout for these symptoms and go to your doctor right away if you notice any of them:

  • A breast lump that is painless, hard, or irregularly shaped.
  • Changes to the skin, such as dimpling and redness or scaling on the nipple or surrounding breast skin.
  • Breast thickening (a sign of altered breast lymphatic channels)
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk — could be blood, pus, or clear fluid.
  • Of course, if you experience any pain or discomfort, it’s best to get checked out immediately by a medical professional.
  • Key Takeaways

    Doctors wouldn’t call them “suspicious densities” but having a dense breast can increase your risk of breast cancer or hide an existing tumor. If you experience changes in your breast, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.

    Learn more about Breast Cancer here

    Disclaimer

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mae Charisse Antalan, MD

    General Practitioner


    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Mar 13, 2023

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