When a ‘normal’ mammogram result may not be ‘normal’
Whew! If you’ve ever had a mammogram, you know that feeling of relief when that letter arrives in the mail saying your results are ‘normal.’ Most women exhale and then toss the letter in the garbage. But we ask, hold on! You’ve done great going for your mammogram, but you need to do one more thing for yourself: ensure the accuracy of your mammogram by finding out your breast density.
Sometimes a ‘normal’ mammogram result may not be accurate, especially if you have dense breasts. If you have fatty breasts, you can be reassured: mammograms are about 98 % accurate in picking up breast cancer in fatty breasts. However, if you have dense breasts, the accuracy in detecting cancer can be less than 50 %.
The number one reason for breast cancer being missed in mammography is dense breast tissue. Ask a breast imaging radiologist and they will readily admit how difficult it is to see cancer in mammograms of women with dense breasts. The reason for the difficulty is that dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram and so does cancer, thereby creating a camouflaging effect. The analogies include: “it’s like finding a polar bear in a blizzard” or “a snowball in a snowstorm.” For women with dense breasts, mammograms are simply not enough. If you have dense breasts, you may benefit from ultrasound, which finds additional cancers missed by mammography in dense breasts. Since 1995, ultrasound has been well proven to find cancers that are small and node-negative.
So do you have dense breasts? Most women in British Columbia do not know because, unlike in other provinces, breast density information is not shared with GPs or women. Luckily, the information is easily accessible by submitting this form http://bit.ly/2r1gtcI
It only takes a minute to complete. All you have to write is: I want to know my breast density. A response will be mailed to you by the BC Cancer Agency Screening Program, at no charge. Over 40% of women will find out they are in Category C or D, meaning that they have dense breasts – this is important health information to know.
In addition to the camouflaging effect on mammogram, dense breasts are an independent risk factor for breast cancer, making cancer 4-6 times more likely. They are a more significant risk factor than having a family history of breast cancer. Women with dense breasts are 17 times more likely to have an interval cancer, where a lump is discovered after having had a normal mammogram.
Women with dense breasts need to know their density so that they can be aware of their risk and the possible issues with their mammograms. They should also have the option to consider additional screening, such as ultrasound. Early detection is the key to less aggressive treatment and increased survival rates. There are so many reasons to find out your breast density! Please be your own breast health advocate and then spread the word: knowing your breast density matters.
If your diagnosis was delayed or missed due to dense breasts, we would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
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