Doctor: Don't rely solely on mammograms for dense breasts

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When it came to breast cancer screening, Lisa Spreder did what she was supposed to do: She got regular breast exams and annual mammograms.

Last fall when her mammogram report came back normal, the mother of four thought everything was fine. But her family doctor wasn't so sure.

"He had told me that he looked at my report and even though it came back normal, it showed dense breast tissue," Spreder says.

The report said Spreder had "heterogeneously dense" breast tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute, about four in 10 women do. That means the breast contains more fibrous or glandular tissue and less fat.

That's significant for two reasons. First, women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with fattier breasts. Second, dense breast tissue looks white on a mammogram. But so do tumors, making cancer that does occur harder to detect.

Spreder's doctor also knew her grandmother was a breast cancer survivor.

"He had just recently been at a seminar, and he had heard that women who have dense breast tissue and a family history of breast cancer should really go for an MRI because 3D mammograms were not picking up early-stage breast cancer in women who have dense breasts," Spreder recalls.