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What is breast density? By Dr. Steven Thiel, Suburban Radiologic Consultants

Screening Mammography and Breast Density

Dr. Steven Thiel is physician at Suburban Radiologic Consultants who specializes in breast imaging and diagnostic breast procedures.

In August of 2014, Minnesota became the 16th state to require mammography providers to notify women if they have dense breast tissue.  Breast density can only be determined by a mammogram and does not correspond to the way your breasts may feel.

Breast tissue density on screening mammograms is determined by a radiologist.  A radiologist is a doctor who specializes in medical imaging.   About half of women will have dense tissue when they have a screening mammogram.

There are four categories of breast density ranging from not very dense to extremely dense.  Below are some mammogram pictures showing examples of the density categories.  All of these are normal.  A woman’s breast density tends to decrease as she ages.

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Breast tissue density is important because women with dense breast tissue have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer.  Additionally, dense breast tissue can sometimes make it more difficult for the radiologist to detect breast cancer.   However, annual screening mammograms remain the recommendation of the American Cancer Society for women of all breast densities.  Women with dense breast tissue should continue to have annual mammograms.

It’s important to discuss this issue with your doctor if you have questions.  Some women with dense breast tissue may benefit from additional screening tests such as MRI or Ultrasound. Together with your doctor you can decide which tests are right for you based on your mammogram results, your individual risk factors and your physical examination.