How does breast density affect my risk for breast cancer?

Dense breasts are at slightly more risk for cancer. In some states radiologists are required to give a density score on mammography. In general, all women have dense breasts when they are young and most become fatty replaced with age.

You may be more at risk for breast cancer if you have dense breasts. Research has found is that breast tissue density is a significant independent risk factor for breast cancer. It increases the relative risk by four to five times. Also, the false positive rates increase and the sensitivity and specificity of mammography are reduced.

Women with dense breast tissue on a mammogram are usually alerted through the doctor that ordered the mammogram. They may return for bi-lateral breast ultrasound or bilateral tomosynthesis as another means for the doctor to look at the breast tissue.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Having dense breasts is a risk factor for developing breast cancer. Learn about this topic with Dr. Oz and Dr. William Li.

Dense breasts are not an indicator for breast cancer, but we do know it gives a slightly higher risk. More importantly, when the breasts are extremely dense or of a mixed density, it makes it more difficult to find cancers during screening mammography. This is because cancers will show up as white lesions, so if the breast is completely white looking [the same color as dense breast tissue], it’s more difficult to identify the cancers.

Studies have shown that denser breasts are associated with an increased risk in breast cancer. There is, however, no consensus  about the degree of increased risk since the study results vary widely. An increased risk is believed to be particularly high for Asian-American and black women.

If you have extremely dense breasts along with other risks for breast cancer, or if you're just concerned, talk to your healthcare professional about having an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening mammogram, which studies find can "see" through dense breast tissue just fine.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.