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Your Healthy Family: New rules for mammogram providers on dense breast tissue

Posted at 7:40 AM, Apr 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-04 13:47:54-04

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires all mammogram providers to notify patients about the density of their breast tissue.

This is because dense breast tissue increases the risk of breast cancer.

Florida had already required doctors to do this, but doctors say the FDA's announcement will strengthen that requirement and make it a rule across the country, which will help prevent more breast cancer deaths.

Dr. Olga Mengin is a Radiologist at UCHealth in Colorado Springs. She's fellowship trained in breast imaging and said dense breast tissue has a masking effect.

"So I'm going to use my hand as an example here. Let's say that a woman does not have dense breast tissue. So her tissue is like my fingers. And you can see through the gaps between my fingers," Dr. Mengin said. "So we can see a very small cancer within that breast tissue because there are lots of gaps between it. Whereas if tissue was dense, it's like the palm of my hand."

Like the palm of her hand, you can't see through that dense breast tissue, making it easier for cancerous tissue to hide. So having dense breast tissue means a woman may need to be screened more often to catch breast cancer early.

In Florida, if a woman's mammogram indicates dense breast tissue, she'll get a letter about it in the mail. said that requirement was set to expire in June of 2023 unless extended by law. But now, the FDA requires all women across the country to be notified.

Dr. Mengin said 3D imaging can help radiologists detect dense breast tissue, and if it's found, more steps are taken.

"So one out of 10 women are going to get called back from their mammogram. The majority of those women, once we get extra images and possibly an ultrasound, they're done. Just a small percentage of those women are then going to need a biopsy. But even that, the biopsies are mostly benign. So only a small percentage of women who need a biopsy will actually be diagnosed with breast cancer," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime, so this impacts hundreds of thousands of people.

Dr. Mengin said screening and early detection are the best ways to prevent cancer deaths.