I've read that a mammogram is useless when it comes to detecting cancer in women with dense breasts. Is this true?

Answer From Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.

Dense breasts can make mammograms more challenging for doctors to interpret. But this doesn't mean a mammogram is useless for detecting cancer or other breast abnormalities in women with dense breasts.

Breast tissue is composed of fatty (nondense) tissue and connective (dense) tissue. Women with dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue. About half of women undergoing mammograms have dense breasts.

Dense breast tissue appears as a solid white area on a mammogram, and fat appears as a dark area. Mammogram X-rays do not penetrate — or "see through" — dense tissues as well as they do through fat. So, in women with dense breasts, mammograms may be more difficult to interpret.

Some studies have found that newer digital mammography does a better job detecting cancer in dense breasts than does mammography that uses film. A digital mammogram produces images on a computer screen that can be enhanced and magnified for closer viewing. Nearly all mammogram machines in the United States are digital mammogram machines.

Another newer breast-imaging test called 3-D mammography (breast tomosynthesis) may provide an improved way of seeing through dense breast tissue. A 3-D mammogram combines multiple low-dose mammogram images to create a 3-D image of the breast. Though not available everywhere, 3-D mammography is becoming more common.

Additional screening tests intended to be combined with regular mammograms are being developed for women with dense breasts. But unlike mammograms, none is proved to reduce the risk of dying of breast cancer. Each additional test has its own set of risks and benefits to consider. None of these tests is intended to replace routine mammograms for breast cancer screening.

Discuss your breast cancer screening options with your doctor. Together you may decide that, based on your risk factors, additional breast cancer screening tests may be right for you.

Dec. 03, 2019 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Alternative and complementary medicine for metastatic breast cancer
  2. Atypical hyperplasia of the breast
  3. Breast cancer
  4. Breast cancer chemoprevention
  5. Breast Cancer Education Tool
  6. Breast cancer radiation: Can it cause dry skin?
  7. Infographic: Breast Cancer Risk
  8. Breast cancer staging
  9. Breast cancer types
  10. Breast cysts
  11. Breast cysts: What role does caffeine play?
  12. Breast implants: Do they interfere with mammograms?
  13. Breast pain
  14. Infographic: Breast Reconstruction Options
  15. Conflicting mammogram results: What can I do?
  16. COVID-19 vaccine: Should I reschedule my mammogram?
  17. Dense breast tissue
  18. Dragon Boats and Breast Cancer
  19. Enlarged breasts in men (gynecomastia)
  20. Fibroadenoma
  21. Fibrocystic breast changes: Linked to breast cancer?
  22. Fibrocystic breasts
  23. Galactorrhea
  24. Gene expression profiling for breast cancer: What is it?
  25. Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer
  26. Genetic testing for breast cancer: Psychological and social impact
  27. Get the support you need when you have metastatic breast cancer
  28. Hypercalcemia
  29. Inflammatory breast cancer
  30. Invasive lobular carcinoma
  31. Metastatic breast cancer
  32. Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
  33. Male breast cancer
  34. Mammary duct ectasia
  35. Mammogram
  36. Mammogram guidelines: What are they?
  37. Mastitis
  38. Metastatic breast cancer: Should you get a second opinion?
  39. Paget's disease of the breast
  40. Palliative care for metastatic breast cancer
  41. Palliative care: Who is it for?
  42. Paulas story A team approach to battling breast cancer
  43. Pink Sisters
  44. Recurrent breast cancer
  45. Relationships and metastatic breast cancer
  46. The Long Race Beating Cancer
  47. Thyroid guard: Do I need one during a mammogram?
  48. Treatment options for metastatic breast cancer
  49. Mammogram for breast cancer — What to expect
  50. Weight Loss After Breast Cancer
  51. What is metastatic breast cancer?
  52. Working with your doctor when you have metastatic breast cancer: Interview with a Mayo Clinic expert.