Unwanted Anxiety, Courtesy Of Your Breasts: Why Dense Breast Tissue Means More Tests

It doesn't seem fair that your best friend gets away with uneventful mammography screenings every year while you are plunged into an emotional roller coaster as frequently as every six months. If you have been told by a physician that you have dense breast tissue or fibrocystic breasts, there is a good chance that many of your routine mammograms will reveal new and suspicious findings that warrant further investigation. If you have already gone through the anxiety of being called back for biopsy procedures and feel trapped in an endless cycle of frequent mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsy tests that turn up benign results, you may be tempted to just say no to the next follow up. It is important to follow your doctor's recommendations, and it will be easier to do so if you understand the reasoning behind the recommendations and why you should be thanking your breasts for their composition.

Risk Assessment

Under the current guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society, women are advised to begin breast cancer screening on an annual basis at the age of 45, and women who prefer to begin at 40 may opt to do so. Women who choose the earlier option are typically those who have a family history of breast cancer. Family history is only one of several risk factors that are considered when doctors make breast cancer screening recommendations to their patients on an individual basis. Other risk factors for breast cancer include the following:

  • Inherited genes that are known to mutate into breast cancer
  • Beginning menstruation before the age of 12
  • Undergoing menopause after the age of 55
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Consuming a diet that is high in fat
  • Obesity or being overweight
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy
  • Use of radiation therapy to the chest area
  • Never having children
  • Giving birth to your first child after the age of 30

Even if none of these risk factors apply to you, you do possess another one if you have dense breast tissue. Not only does this type of breast composition slightly increase your risk for breast cancer, it can also make cancer detection through mammography more challenging. Many women who have dense breast tissue and undergo annual mammograms are also ordered to undergo breast ultrasounds to provide a complete set of images. Because the breast tissue is more fibrous and glandular, it can be more difficult to assess unusual findings on these scans alone. To play it safe, such findings often require biopsies to make definitive diagnoses.   

Don't Hit the Panic Button

The first couple of times that unusual findings are mentioned to you, it seems instinctive to fly into panic mode and envision the worst scenarios. It is normal to experience such feelings of dread and despair, but try not to hit the panic button until a doctor issues a conclusive reason to do so. Keep in mind that 80 percent of breast cancer biopsies turn out to be benign, or noncancerous. There are numerous findings on mammograms and ultrasounds that are confirmed to be benign, including the following:

  • Cysts
  • Fat deposits
  • Calcifications
  • Benign tumors, such as lipomas or neurofibromas

Although such a positive statistic can be encouraging enough to calm your nerves during the interim between the screening tests and the biopsy procedure, do not take a gamble with your life by forgoing the biopsy altogether.

Say Yes to Early Detection

If you have gone through multiple biopsies before, all of which came back as benign, you may be tempted to spare yourself future stress by saying no to the next screening. Many women feel this way. After a benign biopsy result, it is often recommended that a follow up screening be performed six months later to ensure that no changes have taken place. Don't say no to these important screenings. Instead, think of it as saying yes to earlier detection. By following your doctor's recommendations, undergoing a mammogram and/or ultrasound every six or 12 months will maximize your chances of catching something more serious at its earliest stage. This can mean the difference between undergoing a lumpectomy, or surgical removal of the area that contains the lump, and a mastectomy, or surgical removal of the entire breast. It can also mean shorter treatment protocols and fewer side effects from the treatment. Most importantly, early detection enables pathologists to diagnose a cancerous mass while it is still small and has not yet metastasized, or spread, to other areas.

The mortality rate for breast cancer in women has been declining. This is largely attributed to the fact that as women follow the recommended guidelines for breast cancer screenings and follow-ups, an increasing number of malignant cancer cases are diagnosed earlier. While undergoing the mild discomfort and major anxiety that can come with breast cancer screening tests seems like something you may want to put off, the benefits of early detection make it all worthwhile. Instead of thinking of your dense tissue breasts as a source of trouble and a potential risk factor, think of them as potential lifesavers when your doctor strongly advises a follow up screening in six or twelve months. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor so that you can follow a breast cancer screening schedule that is best for you and your long term well-being.

To learn more, contact a company like Women's Care Inc.