Breast cancer risk related to changes in breast density as women age

December 3, 2013, Radiological Society of North America
This image shows fatty breast tissue. Credit: Radiological Society of North America

Automated breast density measurement is predictive of breast cancer risk in younger women, and that risk may be related to the rate at which breast density changes in some women as they age, according to research being presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Breast density, as determined by mammography, is already known to be a strong and independent risk factor for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) considers with extremely dense breasts to be at moderately increased risk of cancer and recommends they talk with their doctors about adding magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) screening to their yearly mammograms.

"Women under age 50 are most at risk from density-associated breast cancer, and breast cancer in younger women is frequently of a more aggressive type, with larger tumors and a higher risk of recurrence," said the study's senior author, Nicholas Perry, M.B.B.S., FRCS, FRCR, director at the London Breast Institute in London, U.K.

For the new study, Dr. Perry and colleagues compared and cancer risk between younger and older women and analyzed how the risk relates to changes in breast density over time. The study group included 282 breast cancer cases and 317 healthy control participants who underwent full-field digital mammography, with breast density measured separately using an automated volumetric system.

This image shows scattered-density breast tissue. Credit: Radiological Society of North America

"In general, we refer to breast density as being determined by mammographic appearance, and that has, by and large, in the past been done by visual estimation by the radiologist—in other words, subjective and qualitative," Dr. Perry said. "The automated system we used in the study is an algorithm that can be automatically and easily applied to a digital mammogram, which allows an objective and, therefore, quantitative density measurement that is reproducible."

Breast cancer patients showed higher mammographic density than healthy participants up to the age of 50. The healthy controls demonstrated a significant decline in density with age following a linear pattern, while there was considerably more variability in density regression among the .

"The results are interesting, because there would appear to be some form of different biological density mechanism for normal breasts compared to breasts with cancer, and this appears to be most obvious for ," Dr. Perry said. "This is not likely to diminish the current ACS guidelines in any way, but it might add a new facet regarding the possibility of an early mammogram to establish an obvious risk factor, which may then lead to enhanced screening for those women with the densest breasts."

This image shows extremely dense breast tissue. Credit: Radiological Society of North America

For instance, some women might undergo a modified exposure exam at age 35 to establish breast density levels, Dr. Perry noted. Those with denser breast tissue could then be followed more closely with mammography and additional imaging like MRI or ultrasound for earlier cancer detection and treatment.

"It has been estimated that about 40 percent of life years lost to are from women under 50 diagnosed outside of screening programs," Dr. Perry said. "In my practice, which is largely composed of urban professional women, 40 percent of cancers year to year are diagnosed in women under 50, and 10 percent in women younger than 40."

Explore further: Individualized breast cancer screening catches more cancer

Related Stories

Individualized breast cancer screening catches more cancer

August 12, 2013
(HealthDay)—A breast cancer screening program tailored to participants' individual risk profiles has a higher-than-expected breast cancer detection rate in 40- to 49-year old women, according to a pilot study published ...

Breast density does not influence breast cancer death among breast cancer patients

August 20, 2012
The risk of dying from breast cancer was not related to high mammographic breast density in breast cancer patients, according to a study published August 20 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Association between hormone replacement therapy use and breast cancer risk varies

September 3, 2013
Breast cancer risk associated with use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) among postmenopausal women was variable when analyzed by race/ethnicity, body mass index (BMI), and breast density, according to a new study published ...

Following mammography, physicians must notify of breast density, NY law states

January 18, 2013
A New York state law that goes into effect Jan. 19, 2013, could impact up to half of all women who get annual mammograms, according to Avice O'Connell, M.D., director of Women's Imaging at the University of Rochester Medical ...

Women with dense breasts welcome additional screening

November 27, 2012
A survey of women undergoing routine screening mammography found that many of them would be interested in pursuing additional screening tests if notified they had dense breast tissue, despite the possibility of false positives, ...

Screening breast ultrasound detects cancers missed on mammography in women with dense breasts

April 18, 2013
Screening breast ultrasound performed after mammography on women with greater than 50% breast density detects an additional 3.4 cancers or high risk lesions per one thousand woman screened, a detection rate just under that ...

Recommended for you

How cancer metastasis happens: Researchers reveal a key mechanism

January 18, 2018
Cancer metastasis, the migration of cells from a primary tumor to form distant tumors in the body, can be triggered by a chronic leakage of DNA within tumor cells, according to a team led by Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial ...

Modular gene enhancer promotes leukemia and regulates effectiveness of chemotherapy

January 18, 2018
Every day, billions of new blood cells are generated in the bone marrow. The gene Myc is known to play an important role in this process, and is also known to play a role in cancer. Scientists from the German Cancer Research ...

These foods may up your odds for colon cancer

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Chowing down on red meat, white bread and sugar-laden drinks might increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, a new study suggests.

The pill lowers ovarian cancer risk, even for smokers

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—It's known that use of the birth control pill is tied to lower odds for ovarian cancer, but new research shows the benefit extends to smokers or women who are obese.

Researchers develop swallowable test to detect pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus

January 17, 2018
Investigators at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have developed a simple, swallowable test for early detection of Barrett's esophagus that offers promise ...

Scientists zoom in to watch DNA code being read

January 17, 2018
Scientists have unveiled incredible images of how the DNA code is read and interpreted—revealing new detail about one of the fundamental processes of life.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.