A majority of women are unaware that breast density could increase their risk of getting the deadly disease, according to a study.
The peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association questioned whether or not women undergoing mammography screening were aware that breast density is a cancer risk. The study also asked them how they planned to mitigate their risks.
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States, behind skin cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
An estimated 264,000 women and 2,400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer in America each year. Of those, about 42,000 women and 500 men die from the disease each year.
In the study, nearly 2,000 women between the ages of 40 and 76 were questioned about their perceived risks of breast cancer.
The research concluded that women perceived family history as the greatest risk factor for developing the common but deadly cancer.
Worryingly, the majority of women did not list breast density as a risk factor, and one-third did not believe that they could take any actions to reduce their breast cancer risk. In some instances having dense breasts is associated with a higher risk of getting cancer than a family history.
People with dense breasts have a “1.2 to 4.0 times higher risk of breast cancer (depending on degree of density)” compared with a “2.0 times higher risk associated with a first-degree family history of breast cancer,” reads the study.
Dense breasts are composed of more glandular tissue relative to fatty tissue and are a natural and fixed risk factor for breast cancer.
It can make it more difficult to detect tumors on mammograms and may increase the chances of having cancerous cells simply because there are more cells in the breasts.
The density of breasts can change over time. People who are younger, pregnant or breastfeeding, taking hormone replacement therapy or have a lower body weight are more likely to have dense breasts.
An estimated 40% to 50% of women undergoing screening mammography are reported to have dense breasts, a study from the National Library of Medicine found.
Thirty-eight states across the country legally require that women receive written notification about their personal breast density and its potential health implications to help them make informed decisions to screen for breast cancer, but the results of the recent study show that these measures are either not implemented or not effective.
People who are found to have dense breasts should contact their doctor to discuss the possibility of undergoing a test beyond a mammogram such as an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Other known risk factors include getting older, genetic mutations, reproductive history, personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases, family history of breast or ovarian cancer, previous treatment using radiation therapy and exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES).
While there are certain risk factors that one cannot change, medical experts advise that people can mitigate the possibility by being physically active, managing a healthy weight, avoiding hormonal medication and avoiding alcohol.
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