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Provista Blog > The Dilemma with Breast Density

Provista Blog

The Dilemma with Breast Density

Posted by Provista Diagnostics on November 2, 2016

What's the deal with detecting breast cancer in dense breasts? 

Breast density can significantly impact the accuracy of routine methods of detection, such as screening mammography, which is challenging for women with dense breast tissue (approximately 50 percent of women). All imaging modalities rely on visual interpretations of a woman's breasts, and for dense breast patients that visual interpretation can be confounded by glandular tissue, obscuring cancers. This occurs because distinguishing between healthy and dense breast tissue and cancer is difficult, as both appear white on imaging––often likened to trying to spot a polar bear in a snowstorm. 

How is breast density categorized?

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As defined by the American College of Radiology's Breast Imaging-Reporting Data System® for breast density. 

Density legislation may impact you:

In over half the country, breast density legislation requires a woman's breast density is reported to patients with their annual imaging reports. While the language used to report this varies from state-to-state, in general, the reporting recommends that a woman contacts her doctor for more information about additional testing. Similar to the variations in language, there is variation in coverage for additional imaging testing, which means there is variance in treatment for dense breast patients. In addition to the state legislation, there are two open bills, one in Congress and one in Senate, which recommend amending the current Public Health Service Act and require updated density notification be reported to a patient, her provider, as well as outline any risks that may be associated with her density status and the detection of breast cancer. 

Advocacy resources can also help patients in many ways. The Are You Dense? organization focuses on helping women bring dense breast legislation to her state and the DenseBreast-Info site provides in depth educational information.  

UPDATE 11/29/16: At the 2016 Radiological Society of North America conference James G. Mainprize, PhD, and colleagues presented "A Masking Index to Predict Reduced Sensitivity of Mammography Due to Breast Density," which addressed the potential for a scale to address the "probability of missing a cancer (if present) due to the amount and patterns of dense tissue in the breast."

Improving breast cancer detection for dense breast patients

As a result of dense breast legislation, women are being informed that they have dense breasts, which can make cancer more difficult to diagnose without being provided tools to obtain a clear diagnosis. This can cause additional anxiety and concern, with no additional solution. Perhaps a blood-based approach, which is not reliant on visual interpretation could help improve the accuracy of early detection. 

To learn more about dense breasts and other areas impacting early breast cancer detection, check out our Breast Cancer Detection guide.

Provista Diagnostics

Provista Diagnostics

At Provista Diagnostics, our mission is to develop world-class diagnostic tests for indications in breast and gynecologic cancers. As a leading diagnostics company, our aim is to create, produce and market innovative solutions for unmet clinical needs. Our products and services help to diagnose diseases and inform better clinical decisions, thus enhancing women’s health and quality of life. We do this in a responsible and ethical manner with a commitment to excellence in every aspect of our business.