Dense tissue may hide or obscure some signs of cancer. Breast cancer may look like a white spot on the mammogram and dense tissue also looks white on the mammogram. So, small white spots are not as easy to detect in areas of the mammogram that show a background of dense or white tissue.
About one half of women normally have more fatty tissue in their breast that is not so dense, or mostly dark gray on the mammogram. For these women the mammogram is more reliable at showing these white spots which could be cancer. The other half of women have dense tissue which makes the mammogram less reliable at detecting small or early breast cancer.
How do I know if I have dense tissue?
Having dense tissue does not necessarily mean that your breasts are lumpy, thick, heavy or cystic. The radiologist sees the density when he/she reads your mammogram. Breast tissue density is classified into 4 categories. Your density category will be on your mammogram report that is sent to your doctor. Breast Center of Acadiana will also notify you of your density category and advise you if another test, screening breast ultrasound, will be recommended.
If I have dense tissue should I still have a mammogram?
The mammogram is still important and valuable because even when there is dense tissue it will show some signs of early breast cancer, such as calcifications, as well or better than other tests.
So what can be done if I have dense tissue?
For women with dense tissue, category 3 or 4, we can offer another screening test, breast ultrasound in addition to the mammogram. This will improve the ability to detect breast cancer that may be hidden on the mammogram.
What if my tissue is not dense?
If your breast tissue is not dense, category 1 or 2, the mammogram is all that is necessary for yearly screening.