There has been discussion in the media about the issue of breast density and how it may relate to mammographic screening. BreastScreen NSW acknowledges that this may cause concern among women who may be confused about what this means for them and what action they should take.
Breasts are made up of fibrous and glandular tissue – milk ducts, milk glands and supportive tissue – and fatty tissue. Dense breasts contain a higher proportion of fibrous and glandular tissue to fatty tissue.
On a mammogram, fatty tissue appears black. Dense breast tissue appears white and so too does breast cancer. This means the cancer can be ‘masked’ by dense breast tissue, making it harder to see. There is also some evidence that increased breast density is associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.
BreastScreen Australia does not provide information to women about the density of their breasts following a mammogram. This is because there is currently no reliable method to measure breast density for a population based screening program, meaning that women’s results may vary, causing unnecessary concern.
At this time, there is insufficient evidence to support the need to provide supplemental technologies, like ultrasound, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or 3D mammography (tomosynthesis) when screening women with dense breasts.
Having two-yearly screening mammograms through BreastScreen Australia is currently the most effective way to detect breast cancer early in women aged 50-74 without symptoms of breast cancer, even for women with dense breasts.
It is also important for women to be aware of the normal look and feel of their breasts because breast cancer can develop at any time.
- Women who are concerned about their risk of developing breast cancer, may have symptoms of breast cancer, or have noticed a change in their breasts should see their GP to discuss appropriate diagnostic or treatment options.
- BreastScreen Australia will continue to evaluate any emerging evidence for breast density and screening mammography.
- For more information about breast density read our frequently asked questions.
- Read BreastScreen Australia's position statement on Breast Density.