Healthbeat 4: What is dense breast tissue and how can it increase the risk of breast cancer?

Updated: Oct. 27, 2022 at 9:30 PM CDT
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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) - By next year the Federal Drug Administration would have a standard for notifying American women of their breast density.

Women with dense breast tissue may need additional screening to detect breast cancer. It is a common occurrence, with nearly half of women 40 and older having dense breasts according to the National Cancer Institute.

Thirty-eight states, including Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, already have breast density reporting laws. That’s according to the non-profit

The Breast Density Mammography Act was signed into law in 2019, but the FDA has yet to develop the rule. This month the FDA told U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to expect the final rule by the end of this year or early 2023.

Radiologist Dr. Adnan Qalbani said he is worried that some women with dense breast tissue won’t fully benefit from this notification.

“We use risk models that are used the patient’s demographic information, like when they started having their menstrual cycles when they had their first child, their family history, and their tissue density all goes into a formula to tell us what their lifetime risk is. And if their lifetime risk comes up above 20%, we put them into a program where they get MRIs done for breast tissue density, as well as just for their high risk. But if you are low risk and have dense breast tissue, you often won’t qualify for that,” said Dr. Qalbani. ”I don’t object to, you know, having women know what their density is, anybody who asks us can we can tell them we put it in every report, but to be mandated to do so, by law and then have these women not know what to do with that information, I think that’s a problem.”

What is dense breast tissue and how does it put you at risk for breast cancer?

”Dense breast tissue is just a component of breast tissue that’s not fat. So breast tissue is made out of fat is made out of glandular tissue, ductal tissue, and some connective elements, and the stuff that’s not fat as dense and it’s harder to see through on a mammogram. So that’s the main thing. So on every single exam, whether it’s a screening or diagnostic mammogram, we designate a breast tissue density,” said Dr. Qalbani.

Dr. Qalbani also says it is common for a woman’s breast density to change over time. Another important reason to stay on top of annual breast exams, whether considered at high risk or not.

”I say the cure is early detection. When we find breast cancer early before it’s gone to lymph nodes or anything stage one,” said Dr. Qalbani.

When it comes to self-exams, Dr. Qalbani says to do them once a month between days 7-10 of your menstrual cycle. If you feel a lump and it is still there the next cycle, call your doctor.

Dr. Qalbani’s staff points to local resources like Iowa Care For Yourself, All Women Count (South Dakota) and Every Woman Matters (Nebraska) for help covering annual examination costs.