Breast cancer is an ever-present concern among women, but many don’t realize they’re at higher risk for the deadly disease than they thought. This is because breast density– a massive risk factor in developing and detecting breast cancer– can only be seen through a mammogram. And what’s more, some doctors aren’t even required to inform their patients about their breast density or suggest additional screening.
Suzanne McDonald was a victim of this very plight when she received the “all-clear” from her routine mammogram. Unfortunately, she had dense breast tissue that was concealing tumors from the x-ray. Later, when she insisted on additional screening, she was blindsided by a devastating, late-stage diagnosis.
Knowing if you’re at high risk for breast cancer and your different screening options can save your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Risk factors like diet and exercise can be changed, but there are a few things that put us at high risk for breast cancer that are beyond our control.
Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are age 50 or older. This is why routine breast screening is highly recommended when women reach age 45.
The mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can cause abnormal cell growth, leading to breast cancer. This mutation is typically inherited from a parent and carriers are considered to be at very high risk for breast cancer.
Dense breast tissue is very common and not harmful in and of itself, but it can put you at higher risk for developing breast cancer and make it difficult to detect tumors in a mammogram.
Nearly half of women aged 40 or older have dense breasts, meaning that they have a higher proportion of fibrous and glandular tissue in their breasts than fatty tissue. This is normal, but those with more dense tissue are known to be at higher risk for developing breast cancer, which is particularly dangerous since the dense tissue can conceal tumors in a mammogram.
Both tumors and dense tissue show up as white in a mammogram, making it very difficult to detect abnormalities. Hence why additional screening is necessary.
Though mammograms are useful tools, they aren’t the only breast cancer screening option. Understanding when you need additional or alternative screening can help you prevent a late-stage diagnosis and expand your breast cancer treatment opportunities.
3D mammograms are known to find more cancers than traditional 2D mammograms because they allow doctors to see past layers of tissue. However, they use more radiation, which can be harmful in and of itself.
For younger women or those with dense breast tissue, breast ultrasounds might be a great choice for early breast cancer screening. Instead of using radiation to collect images inside of the breast, ultrasound uses sound waves; making it much safer for those who want to start precautionary scanning at an earlier age or are at high risk for breast cancer. And those who find they have dense breasts on a mammogram can use an ultrasound for additional screening to detect any abnormalities that might have been missed.
MRIs are often used to determine the extent of cancer after diagnosis and for detecting aggressive tumors in high-risk breast cancer patients that would have otherwise been missed. However, it’s not recommended for them to be used for routine testing in place of mammograms, as they can miss abnormalities that mammograms can detect.
Women with dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer and it go undetected, leading to a life-threatening late-stage diagnosis. Understanding when you should request an additional screening or when to talk to your doctor about unknown risk factors can help you detect and treat any unseen breast cancers before it’s too late.
Schedule a appointment with Eve Wellness to ensure that what happened to Suzanne McDonald and many other women does not happen to you.