Few Aware that Dense Breasts Increase Cancer Risk

CURE, Winter 2014, Volume 13, Issue 4

A recent survey reveals that most women aren't aware of the association between dense breast tissue and breast cancer risk.

Women with radiographically dense breast tissue face a higher risk of developing breast cancer and may benefit from screening with digital, rather than film, mammography. Yet most aren’t aware of the association between dense tissue and disease risk, according to a global survey conducted recently by GE Healthcare.

A goal of the survey is to encourage women with dense breasts to discuss their cancer risk and screening options with their doctors.

While women with very dense breasts are four to five times more likely to develop the disease than their counterparts without dense tissue, only one of every five people worldwide recalled learning anything about dense breast tissue, from any source, within the six months prior to being polled, GE found in its Value of Knowing Survey of 10,000 adults. Among the 10 countries included in the survey, the United States—where 19 percent of respondents were aware of the association between dense breasts and cancer— was one of the least informed.

Further, the online survey found that fewer than half the adults questioned could name six typical symptoms of breast cancer. In addition to lumps, those symptoms can include nipple discharge or rash, as well as changes in breast size, shape or appearance.

Forty percent of women have dense breast tissue, which is composed more of connective tissue than of fat. Research is being done to determine whether imaging with ultrasound, MRI or tomosynthesis—which generates three-dimensional images—might increase the effectiveness of breast cancer screening for those women.

As a means of ensuring that women are informed so that they can initiate discussions with their health care providers, 19 American states have passed legislation requiring that women be notified if a mammogram shows they have dense breast tissue, and 12 states have such legislation pending.