Breast Cancer and How It Relates to Breast Density

Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer
Courtesy of Steve Davis (Flickr CC0)

Breast Density

One of the greatest risks of breast cancer is high breast density, with a risk four times higher than other known risks.  Many women are not aware of this huge risk, according to a new study.

The study was published on Jama Network and nearly 2000 women were surveyed from 2019-2020. The participants ranged from ages 40-76 and they all reported having recently undergone mammography, had known of breast density tissue, and have some knowledge of breast cancer.

They were asked to compare breast density to other risks of getting breast cancer. This includes having a relative with breast cancer, drinking excessive alcohol, and being overweight.

When determining breast density as a risk of breast cancer many did not perceive it as a major risk. Laura Beidler, an author of this study claims this is a huge problem.

The authors of this study have stated that this is mainly responsible for cancer with a much higher risk. This is even higher than having a relative with breast cancer. Unfortunately, 93% of women are not aware of this issue.

What is it?

Breast Cancer
Courtesy of North Charleston (Flickr CC0)

Breast density refers to having excessive glandular and fibrous tissue which is quite common. About half of the women who have done mammograms are said to have this present.

Researchers set aside 61 participants in the study which were once notified of their excessive breast tissue. They were told what they thought contributed to breast cancer and how they could reduce their risk.

Half of the women out of the 61 correctly noted that breast density could hide tumors on mammograms. While this is true there is still another half who thought this was not an issue.

The study showed that one-third of participants believed that there was nothing they could do to reduce their risk of breast cancer. This is of course not true because there are several ways to help with this.

One could be to live a more healthy and active lifestyle. Another could be to minimize alcohol as much as possible. There are lots more but these are things you can do now.

Who Does Breast Density Affect the Most?

People who are most vulnerable to having higher amounts of breast tissue vary. It is usually higher in women who are younger, underweight, or pregnant.

Dr. Harold Burstein, a breast oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who was not involved in the study, said that one hypothesis has been that women who have more dense breast tissue also have higher, greater levels of estrogen, circulating estrogen, which contributes to both the breast density and the risk of developing breast cancer. “Another theory is that breast cancer is more likely to grow because of something in the tissue that makes it more thick. Which one explains the observation? We’re not sure,” added Dr. Burstein.

As of now, 38 states require that women are informed about breast density following their mammography. However, studies have suggested that women find this information confusing. When being told that you have increased breast density it’s a subject not discussed and usually at the bottom of the report.

How to Prevent Breast Cancer

Like stated earlier there are ways to prevent breast cancer before it becomes an issue. One way is by living a healthier lifestyle and drinking less alcohol.

There are many approved medicines such as tamoxifen. This is typically given to people with higher risks but is proven to work. At most, your risk may be prevented by 50%. Finally, the most effective way of preventing your risk of breast cancer is to be aware and knowledgeable on the subject. Do anything that you can to advocate for yourself so that you may save yourself trouble in the future.

By Esteban Ruiz

Sources:

CNN: Many women underestimate breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer, study shows

The McDuffie Progress: Research Gives Clues to Why Cancer in One Breast Could Develop in the Other

Medpage Today: Four Germline Mutations Up Risk of Contralateral Breast Cancer

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Steve Davis’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of North Charleston’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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