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Dense Breast Tissue Isn’t Always A High Cancer Risk, Study Suggests

Women with dense breast tissue aren’t necessarily at high breast cancer risk as previously thought, according to a group of researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Apparently, women with dense breast tissue are having a hard time getting a precise diagnosis when doing mammography because mammograms are difficult to read. This issue was linked to an increased breast cancer risk, and according to researchers at the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer cases are expected to rise to 50 percent by 2030.

The study, which was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, suggests that only half of the women with dense breast tissue are in need of additional testing, such as ultrasounds and MRI screenings.

The research team from the University of Washington in Seattle analyzed the medical records of 365,426 women, ages 40 to 74, who had a digital screening mammography between 2002-2011 and no history of breast implants or breast cancer. They found that women who had a mammogram saw a very low breast cancer risk of just 2.5 percent, including women who had moderately dense breasts. Women with extremely dense breasts exhibited a very high risk of breast cancer coming in at 21 percent.

The study’s authors suggest women with high breast cancer risk are most likely to benefit from additional screening tests after a normal mammogram has been conducted.

Dr. Constance Lehman, author of the study, was quoted by The New York Times as having said, “While mammography is currently the best screening tool we have, there are women for whom mammography is not enough.”

While mammography is currently the best screening tool we have, there are women for whom mammography is not enough. We hope this work can help women be better informed regarding whether or not supplemental screening, such as with ultrasound or with M.R.I., should be considered.

According to the researchers, if all women with dense breasts were to get additional testing, one cancer would be discovered for every 1,124 tests conducted. However, targeting only women with dense breasts would leave more than 50 cancers undetected.

Dr. Carol Lee, a diagnostic radiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said, “We have to decide, what is our goal? To pick up every possible breast cancer as soon as we possibly can? It’s a wonderful goal in theory, but I don’t know that it’s a realistic goal.”

What are your thoughts on these findings? Is it worth spending additional money to discover breast cancer when this particular strategy has such a low efficiency rate.

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