Breast density is a measure applied to describe the different densities of all the different tissues that make up a woman’s breasts.
Breasts are made up of:
- Breast Tissue/Glandular Tissue: Milk ducts and lobules
- Connective Tissue: the tissue that holds everything else in place.
What are Dense Breasts?
It is estimated that around 40% of women in the United States unknowingly have dense breasts. When you hear the phrase “dense breasts,” it is easy to imagine having breasts that are unusually heavy or hard to the touch. But, breast density is not a measure of how your breasts feel, but of how your breasts look on a mammogram. Having a high breast density means that there is a greater amount of breast and connective tissue compared to the fat content of the breast. If you have a low breast density, you have a more significant amount of fat compared to your breast and connective tissue.
Risk Factors Linked To Dense Breasts
Mammograms of dense breasts are much harder to read than mammograms of fatty breasts, making it more difficult to spot breast cancer. If you have a high breast density, you are almost five times more likely to get breast cancer than women with low breast density.
The two main causes of dense breasts are:
- Age: Being of a younger age
- Menopause: Being pre-menopausal
During menopause, hormone changes in your body cause your breast tissue to become less dense. Younger premenopausal women have denser breasts than older women who are postmenopausal.
Diagnosing Dense Breasts
Your doctor will be able to tell you if you have dense breasts by looking at the thickness of the tissue on a mammogram. Your doctor will also ask you about your mother’s breast density. If your mother has dense breasts, it is likely you will also have dense breasts. Still, there is no medical consensus on which method of measuring breast density is the best.
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You are probably familiar with the pap smear procedure, but many women may not know it is a screening for cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears help prevent the most common types of cervical cancer by detecting early cellular changes, also knowns as dysplasia or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). If your pap comes back irregular, your gynecologist will likely issue a subsequent test called an HPV test.
Approximately 85% of the population has or has had HPV, also known as the Human Papillomavirus. There are 100’s of strains of HPV, but what the HPV test is checking for is those high-risk strains which cause dysplasia and cervical cancer.
Cervical dysplasia is a precancerous situation and is often easily treated in-office. It becomes a problem when it goes untreated. Untreated dysplasia can lead to cervical cancer.
If your pap comes back with LGSIL (low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions) or HGSIL (high grade squamous intraepithelial lesions), the next step would be to perform a colposcopy which is a visual examination of the vagina and cervix using a magnifying device known as a colposcope. If abnormal cells are found your gynecologist will take a small sample of tissue or LEEP cone biopsy to carve out abnormal cells and send to pathology. A colposcopy and cervical biopsy can be done in-office, within 15 minutes.
There are 3 Types of Dysplasia:
- CIN I – mild dysplasia
- CIN II – moderate to marked dysplasia
- CIN III – severe dysplasia to carcinoma in situ
Mild dysplasia typically requires no treatment, but follow-up visits are strongly recommended to make sure it doesn’t develop into a more severe case of dysplasia. A LEEP cone biopsy is required for moderate, severe cases of dysplasia. It isn’t fun, but for the most part, the Pap test, HPV test, colposcopy and LEEP cone biopsy are pretty painless. And 100% necessary for your health and wellness.