What You Should Know About Dense Breasts and Mammography
As women, every October we are bombarded with pink ribbons, athletes wearing pink socks, and commercials and billboards telling us to “get your mammogram,” and every year, millions of women are subjected to ionizing radiation—the most harmful type of radiation—as directed by their health care providers. But is mammography the best screening tool for breast cancer detection, especially for those women with dense breasts?
What Does It Mean to Have Dense Breasts?
If you’re reading this, my guess is that you’ve been told you have dense breasts. What exactly are dense breasts and why should you care? Having dense breasts is very common; in fact, it is a condition in close to 50% of women. If you have dense breasts, you were most likely given that information following a mammogram. While it is not an abnormal finding, nor cause for immediate concern, it can increase your chance of developing breast cancer in the future.
Dense breasts have nothing to do with your bra size or how they look or feel. It’s also not the same as having lumpy (cystic) breasts. Rather, it is the appearance of the tissue on a mammogram (X-ray) that diagnoses breast density. Breasts are comprised of fatty, glandular, and fibrous connective tissue; the amount of each tissue type can vary depending on the woman, as well as her age. Fatty tissue is non-dense and appears dark on a mammogram, while fibrous and granular tissue is dense and appears white. Being told you have dense breasts simply means there’s a higher percentage of fibrous or glandular tissue in relationship to fatty tissue within the breasts. The catch is that having dense breasts makes detecting cancer difficult on a mammogram. Dense tissue appears white and so does cancer; thus, tumors are often missed within the dense tissue. Think of it as looking for a snowball in a snowstorm.
Mammography vs. Breast Thermography
Mammography is known as the standard of care for breast cancer screenings, but over the past decade it has been undergoing steady scrutiny. There’s no denying that mammograms have saved lives and are helpful in detecting cancer. However, mammograms are known to be less reliable for women with dense breasts because density decreases the sensitivity and effectiveness of mammography. This can lead to inclusive or false-negative mammograms and may require an additional screening using ultrasound or thermography. If you’ve been told you have dense breasts, it is important that you do not rely solely on mammography to check for breast cancer.
Breast thermography is a technology that picks up thermal changes in breast tissue, which are the precursors for breast tissue anomalies that can become cancerous. With thermography, physicians can also detect cancerous processes and tumors in the early stages. Furthermore, breast density does not affect the results or lower the sensitivity of thermography, making thermograms accurate for all women, of all ages, with any breast type—including dense breasts. Unlike a mammogram, a thermogram isn’t invasive, the technician doesn’t touch or flatten the breasts, and there is absolutely no radiation exposure. Thermography can also be performed for pregnant women, women under 40 who don’t yet have recommended breast screening options, and women with breast implants.
Choosing Breast Thermography
Most physicians are more familiar with mammography, and many still believe that a mammogram is the best test for detecting breast cancer early. But in reality, it is not. Studies show that a thermogram identifies precancerous or cancerous cells earlier, produces unambiguous results that cuts down on additional testing, and doesn’t harm the body.
When making decisions about your health, including which breast screening is best for you, I always suggest you use your inner guidance to help make the decision. If you feel it’s best to get an annual mammogram, then by all means, continue to do so. Just be aware of the drawbacks and risks associated with this screening. If you prefer to try breast thermography, though, don’t be intimidated or feel guilty if you chose not to have an annual mammogram or prefer to forgo mammography completely. A thermogram can tell you how healthy your breasts are, rather than just screening them for cancer. When done properly, it has the potential to truly detect subtle breast changes and anomalies long before mammography can detect cancer, allowing you and your healthcare provider to implement lifestyle and dietary changes to proactively improve the health of your breasts.
April Beaman, RDH, CTT, is a Medical Thermographer, certified by the Professional Academy of Clinical Thermology, and a professional member of Breast Thermography International. Beaman has worked in the wellness industry for over 15 years and provides thermography screenings and wellness support for both men and women. She is the owner of CT Thermography located in Farmington. Connect at 860.415.1150 or CTThermography.com.
Listen to April discuss thermography vs. mammography here: https://naturalnutmeg.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/NN Advertiser Podcasts – April Beaman_May262021.mp4