Breast Cancer Screening

Amy’s Story: “I Have Very Dense Breasts”

October 6, 2021

Amy— a 46-year-old mom and software engineer—was familiar with dense breast tissue. Her mother had dense breasts. However, Amy didn’t realize that she, too, might have dense breasts.

Amy had recently had her routine mammogram, when she received a letter in the mail from the breast center.

“The letter told me I had very dense breasts,” Amy says. “I was surprised… It just never crossed my mind. I was a little worried, since they sent me a letter saying you need to come in and have more specialized testing done.”

Her doctor recommended that she follow-up with a 3D™ mammogram and breast ultrasound.

Dense Breast Tissue Is a Risk Factor

Amy isn’t alone. Dense breasts are a common breast cancer risk factor. In fact, nearly 50% of women have dense breasts, meaning that there is more connective and glandular tissue than fatty tissues in the breast.40 Dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram — the same color as cancer — making it difficult for radiologists to find cancers on a traditional mammogram. Because of this, women with dense breasts benefit from the increased detail of a 3D™ mammogram and sometimes need additional methods of screening, too.

I knew that dense breasts made finding something on a mammogram difficult but knowing you need more specialized testing was shocking at first.

While Amy originally felt anxious and worried about needing additional exams, the fear quickly turned to gratitude. “Once you have the conversation with your doctors, understand what the additional imaging exams are and know that the screenings are proactive and preventative, you feel so thankful. It’s a relief, I get to be screened more.” Amy experienced a greater peace of mind knowing that her doctors had created a screening plan that served her best interests.

A Dense Breasts Screening Plan

Amy’s screening plan, personalized for her needs, began with a 3D™ mammogram and ultrasound appointment. A few years later, her doctors recommended that Amy continue to receive a 3D™ mammogram and ultrasound, and add a breast MRI six months after each appointment. Amy’s breast tissue is classified as extremely dense, meaning that nearly all of the breast tissue is fibrous and glandular with very little fat. By rotating her 3D™ mammogram and ultrasound appointment with a breast MRI every six months, her doctors are able to ensure that no tumors are being obscured in the dense tissue. “I’m pretty confident with what I’m doing now and with my screening plan… I do not feel concerned that anything will be missed.”

A Family History

Amy has a personal connection with breast cancer. Her grandmother was diagnosed in her 70s, and her mother was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast — during an annual mammogram. Knowing now that her dense breast tissue may also increase her breast cancer risk, she’s discussed routine screening with her daughter.

“With my daughter, I talk to her about our family history and how she’s more apt to having dense breast tissue as well,” Amy said. “I’ve encouraged her to be proactive and to find out what her breast tissue type is early. She’s young, but we’ve talked about starting her routine mammograms before age 40 and understanding her risk factors.”

When asked what she wants other women to know about dense breast tissue, Amy answered “You should definitely take the 3D™ mammogram, ultrasounds, contrast enhanced digital mammography, MRI — whatever your practitioner wants you to do, because it’s better safe than sorry. It [breast cancer] is something that can be prevented, so why not take that opportunity.”