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Dense Breasts and Breast Cancer: Is There a Link?

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In 2003, Dr. Nancy M. Cappello got her regular mammogram, and a clean bill of health. But six weeks later, her doctor felt a lump in her breast during a physical exam. Another mammogram did not see the lump, but a subsequent ultrasound did. Cappello was shocked to discover that she had stage 3C Breast Cancer which had spread to 13 lymph nodes. Her doctor explained that because she had a condition called “Dense Breasts,” the lump could not be detected through mammography.

What Is Dense Breast Syndrome?

 “Dense Breasts” or “Dense Breast Syndrome (DBS)” indicates breasts that have more glandular and supportive tissue than fatty tissue. According to the Mayo Clinic, about 4 in 10 women have scattered areas of dense tissue, roughly 4 in 10 women have mostly dense tissue, and about 1 in 10 women have breasts that are extremely dense.

It was once believed that dense breast syndrome was mostly hereditary. Now there is some evidence to suggest that breast density may be influenced by lifestyle, including certain medications as well as hormonal changes.  Dense Breast Syndrome can affect young women in particular.

Does Dense Breast Syndrome Mean a Higher Risk of Breast Cancer?

mammography breast scan X-ray image

This is a tricky question. According to conventional medicine, the answer would be yes. However, investigations thus far have been solely based on analysis of mammography screenings over time. When breast tissue is denser, it is harder for tumors to be detected by mammography x-rays.

For example, a 2018 Norwegian study of over 100,00 individuals aged 50 to 69 found that “screening examinations of women having dense breasts showed higher rates of recall and biopsy, and higher odds of screen-detected and interval breast cancers than women with non-dense breasts.”

The main take away of this statement can be that if a person relies on mammography alone to check for Breast Cancer, there is a good chance that it will go unnoticed. Unfortunately, women with Dense Breasts are also exposed to more mammograms and biopsies than those who don’t have the condition. A little less than half of the states in the U.S. require that doctors encourage those with dense breast tissue of any level be scheduled for additional mammography exams as well as other imaging procedures such as PET, MRI and ultrasound.

Mammography screening, if used as a stand alone tool,  simply cannot fully provide very accurate and very early detection . While no screening method is 100% accurate, thermography uses heat and light to detect physiological changes in the breast tissue, that could potentially be cancerous approximately six to eight years before any palpable mass may appear. Sadly, Dr. Nancy Capello passed away at the very young age of 66.  But she has left a legacy of information about the challenges with Dense Breasts. 

Changing Laws and Changing Times

From 2003 until her death last year, Cappello would lead the charge for legislation concerning Dense Breasts. A large part of her passion was education. This included the creation of her website,AreYouDense.org. Dr. Cappello also changed the law in her home state of Connecticut and elsewhere. In many states, it is now required that women be informed if they have DBS. It is also mandatory for insurance companies in many states to cover ultrasound screening for them in particular.

That being said, the jury is still out as to whether having DBS in itself can raise risk the of Breast Cancer. 

What does all this mean for you? It means you should take a proactive stance in relation to your Breast Health. Consider including Thermography as a breast assessment tool, and identify any change of function in the breast tissue years before a lump is discovered. This information can allow you to restore your Breast Health by working with a qualified therapist. Learn how to do a proper and regular breast self-exam and become familiar with your own breasts.

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