Dense Breast Tissue a Major Risk Factor for Breast Cancer
According to an article recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, women with extensively dense breast tissue as revealed by mammography have a significantly increased risk of developing breast cancer compared to women with less dense breast tissue. Furthermore, cancer among women with dense breast tissue is much harder to detect on mammography film than cancer among women with less dense breast tissue.
Breast cancer occurs in nearly 200,000 women annually in the United States. Screening mammography, an X-ray of the breast, has demonstrated a significant reduction in deaths caused by breast cancer.
Dense breast tissue has been associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. As well, cancers of the breast are more difficult to detect through mammography screening among women with dense breast tissue. However, the extent of breast cancer risk associated with dense breast tissue and specific screening methods is not known.
Researchers from Canada recently conducted a clinical study including over 2,000 women who were screened for breast cancer.
- Women with dense breast tissue in 75% or more of the mammogram had nearly a fivefold increased risk of breast cancer compared with women with dense breast tissue in 10% of the mammogram.
- For younger women (those younger than 56 years of age), 26% of all breast cancers and 50% of breast cancers detected less than one year after a negative mammogram were associated with dense breast tissue in 50% or more of the mammogram.
- Researchers stated that dense breast tissue most likely masks breast cancers that would otherwise be found by mammography screening.
The researchers concluded that dense breast tissue as detected by mammography is associated with a significantly increased risk in the development and detection of breast cancer. The authors state that screening methods other than mammography should be explored for women with dense breast tissue. Women undergoing mammography should ask their physician whether they have dense breast tissue and, if so, about their individual risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial evaluating novel screening methods for breast cancer.
Reference: Boyd N, Guo H, Martin L, et al. Mammographic density and the risk and detection of breast cancer. New EnglandJournal of Medicine. 2007; 356:227-236.
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