Buddy Check 9: New NCI Study Offers Encouraging News To Women With Dense Breasts

6:32 AM, Oct 23, 2012   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Fatty breasts versus dense breasts: is having one better than the other? Women with dense breasts are considered at higher risk for developing breast cancer.

But it was also believed their prospects for a recurrence, even death, was poor. But a new study offers some surprising results for women in both categories. 

A majority of women have dense breast. The term has nothing to do with breast size, shape or firmness. It's just about the type of tissue that makes up the breast.On a mammogram dense tissue shows up white, but so does cancer making it much harder to detect.

"We depend on high quality mammography & positioning to separate out the structures...In fatty breasts it's like looking through a clear brook and that makes finding those spots more readily," said Dr. Rebecca Zuurbier, Director of Breast Imaging at Sibley Hospital.

A woman with dense breasts' risk for breast cancer is still higher than the woman with fatty tissue, but digital mammography has been an imaging game changer. 

A new study by the National Cancer Institute offers encouraging news to women with dense breasts. The NCI study followed more than 9,300 women for nearly 6 and a half years before the digital mammography era. It concluded high breast density had no impact on mortality risks once the disease had developed.

Surprisingly, that wasn't the case for some women believed to be at lower risk.

According to Dr. Zuurbier, "Obese women with fatty breasts were actually found to die more frequently from breast cancer and that's kind of unfortunate because those are the ones you can find earlier."

Dr. Zuurbier believes the issue of dense versus fatty breasts has been a little overblown. Having one is not better than the other based on these results. What the study does prove is that every woman can benefit from high quality digital mammography, which she says is safe and effective at finding breast cancer early.

"I am all in favor of finding breast cancer early, but making women with less dense breasts think they're safe would be a bad message," said Dr. Zuurbier.

The bottom line: the study's authors say the findings show we have a lot to learn about dense breasts tissue and its implications for screening, diagnosis and treatment.

To keep yourself and your Buddy in check, text BUDDYCHECK9 to 25543 for a monthly Early Detection alert sponsored by Washington Radiology Associates.

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