What age should women find out about their breast density and screening for breast cancer?

Breast cancer kills more women between the ages 35-54 than automobile accidents, diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, murder, alcoholism, drug overdose or any other cause.  Almost 8,000 women in this age group die each year in the United States alone.  There has been a concerted effort to convince women and their physicians that it is unnecessary to screen for breast cancer during three quarters of these two decades.  The United States Preventative Services Task Force (U.S.P.S.T.F.) has decided that it is not worth the effort or expense to screen women before the age of 50. Part of that reasoning was that, since most young women have dense breasts, many cancers would be missed by screening mammography anyway. My own feeling is that women with dense breasts, who...

Heather Reimer, A Story of Inspiration and Hope

Part of the goal of this blog is to not only include valuable breast health information that’s useful for women and medical professionals alike, but to also provide stories of inspiration and hope.  Many of these stories will come from women who have experienced receiving a breast cancer diagnosis that was earlier missed because of dense breast tissue, or found their cancer early due to mammography coupled with an ultrasound examination.  We hear these stories all the time, and we want to impress upon all women the importance of knowing their breast tissue density and how to proactively seek the care they need if they find they have dense breast tissue.  Today’s story is from Heather Reimer, an incredible survivor located in Reno, Nevada.  To...

Great News about Genetic Testing!

The genetic test that Angelina Jolie had done that normally runs between $3000 or $4000 will become much cheaper very soon.  The United States Supreme Court has ruled that human genes are not patentable.  This means that the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes that predispose to breast cancer will no longer be monopolized by one company who can charge thousands of dollars for the test, but rather it will be open to competition from other genetic marker companies. You can expect over the next few months that the price will descend thousands of dollars to a few hundred dollars for this test.  At the same time, other less known genetic defects will be tested for in a panel of genetic abnormalities. If you are worried that you have a genetic predisposition for breast cancer...

What are the survival rates of women who have implants as part of reconstruction after a breast cancer diagnosis? Are their survival rates impacted?

First of all, the incidence (occurrence) of breast cancer in women with implants is virtually the same for women without implants at any given age.  In fact there is some evidence that the occurrence might be slightly less for those with implants. So, having an implant even after having breast cancer will not increase the chance of recurrence or generation of a new cancer. However, in women with cosmetic implants, chance of dying from breast cancer increases 38% compared to women without implants according to a recent article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2013; 346:f2399). This article is open-source (free to anyone with internet). Presumably, the increased mortality associated with implants is a result of later discovery of the cancers because of the...

I have been told that I have dense breasts on my mammograms. What does that mean?

Dense breasts mean that x-rays don’t go through the tissue easily because the tissue is dense to the x-rays.  This happens when there is not much fat in the breasts.  X-rays pass through fat very easily and cause the fat to be black on the mammogram.  Because the glandular and fibrous tissue let less of the x-rays pass through the breast, this tissue looks white on the mammograms. This makes the sensitivity of the mammogram much less than when the tissue is fatty. Cancer doesn’t make fat.  Consequently, it also appears white and may easily be lost in the white breast tissue when it is small.  Trying to find cancer in dense breasts is equivalent to looking for a polar bear in a snowstorm, because you are looking for a white object in a...

What are “dense breast laws?”

Women in many states have complained to their legislators that they developed malignant lumps in their breasts that either they or their health care provider found shortly after a mammogram and after receiving a letter from their radiologist assuring them that their mammogram was normal.  No mention was made that because they had dense breasts they could not be given complete assurance that their breasts were cancer free. In response to this problem, the legislatures in five states, including the three largest states, California, Texas and New York, have passed laws that the radiologist must inform women who have dense breasts and a normal mammogram that there are other tests such as ultrasound and MRI that can find cancers that are missed by the mammogram in...