As some states scramble to pass laws that require physicians to inform women with high breast density that they are at higher risk for breast cancer and may require more in-depth screenings, not all researchers are convinced that’s the right more. Some theorize that it is only certain types of breast density that signal a higher incidence rate of breast cancer. With that in mind, a researcher at the University of California at San Francisco went to work trying to unlock the puzzle of breast density.
Breast density involves the tissue makeup of the breasts. Women who are described as having a high breast density have a greater amount of breast and connective tissue compared to fat. This is commonly believed to make women four to five times more likely to get breast cancer than their low density counterparts.
Researchers, however, say that may not be entirely true. California researchers found that half of women age 40 to 74 who had dense or heterogeneously dense breasts were at low or average risk for breast cancer. About a quarter of those with dense breast did exhibit high rates of interval breast cancer. Even so, laws in some states require all women with high breast density to be notified of the risks. This, in turn, tends to lead to more aggressive screenings, which may result in invasive procedures, such as biopsies.
The findings in the California study indicate that breast density laws may be too much too soon. Instead, researchers recommend zeroing in on better identification for women with high interval cancer rates or high rates of false positives to better determine who might benefit from additional screenings.
While breast density has been linked to a higher incidence rate of cancer, not all women with dense breasts will find themselves at-risk for the disease. The bottom line is women should carefully discuss their risks and appropriate screening protocols with their healthcare providers.
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