Women reading a radiologist’s report of their recent screening mammography may learn for the first time they have “dense breast tissue.” At the BreastCare Center at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC), YRMC Imaging Services and Prescott Medical Imaging they’ll also learn their lifetime risk for breast cancer.

Arizona and more than half of the states nationwide have passed breast density notification laws intended to inform women who have undergone mammography screening about their breast density. Unlike most imaging centers, however, YRMC also is arming women and their doctors with an assessment of the woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer during her lifetime. The goal is to increase the understanding of breast density and provide women and their physicians’ information to act on.

“Breast density information is more valuable when it’s combined with an assessment of the woman’s lifetime risk for breast cancer,” said Kathi Hoffer, YRMC’s Imaging Services Operations Manager at the BreastCare Center. “With this information, a woman and her physician can develop a plan that may include additional screening, such as Breast MRI or Ultrasound.”

What is breast density? It’s a way to describe the composition of a woman’s breasts. It compares the area of breast and connective tissue – as seen on a mammogram – to the area of fat. Breast and connective tissue are denser than fat so high breast density means there is more breast and connective tissue as compared to fat. Low breast density means there is a greater amount of fat as compared to breast and connective tissue.

“Everyone is born with a breast pattern, just like a fingerprint,” said Hoffer. “Some people have a dense breast pattern and some do not.”

A dense breast pattern is normal. In fact, approximately 40 percent of women over the age of 40 have dense breasts. On a mammogram, dense breast tissue appears white as do breast masses or tumors. This means dense tissue can sometimes mask tumors. Additionally, for reasons researchers are still studying, women who have dense breast tissue have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to women with less dense breast tissue.

“There’s lots of confusion about breast density,” Hoffer said. “Many people think they have dense breasts and in reality they do not. Others are not aware that they do have dense breasts.”

YRMC’s mammography reports create a complete picture of their respective lifetime risk for breast cancer. The assessment takes into account:

  • Age
  • Breast density
  • Ethnicity
  • Family history
  • Genetics (BRCA1 or BRCA2)
  • Onset of menstruation and menopause
  • Previous breast biopsy or breast cancer
  • Pregnancy history

Women with dense breasts are encouraged to speak to their physicians to develop a plan to monitor their breast health. Some women with dense breasts also undergo Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and/or Ultrasound. It’s also recommended that future mammograms be done as 3-D or Breast Tomosynthesis.

The first step is to get regular digital mammography screening. Women who can’t afford to undergo regular screening may be eligible for mammography screening at no cost through the YRMC Community BreastCare Fund.

For more information about breast screening contact: