The breast cancer risk factor you probably don’t know to check

The breast cancer risk factor you probably don’t know to check

The breast cancer risk factor you probably don’t know to check

Melissa Shedden

And it’s not your family history, or routinely reported in mammogram results.

Picture: iStock

Whether or not you should do breast self-exams has become the subject of debate recently, but one thing's for sure – the better you know your pair, the more likely you'll notice if something is out-of-the-ordinary and potentially dangerous.

Now, recent UK research has indicated that there is one major risk factor you probably don’t know – and that’s dense breast tissue.

In fact, it can be more of a risk factor than family history when it comes to developing breast cancer and Dr Mary Rickard, Chief Radiologist for Sydney Breast Clinic tells myBody+Soul, the dangers associated with dense breast tissue are two-fold.

“Dense breast tissue has a higher proportion of glandular tissue, which in turn has a higher chance of developing breast cancer at some stage of your life. High-density breast tissue also makes identifying tumours difficult, which means there is a greater chance of the cancer being missed,” says Dr Rickard.

The radiologist warns that while the density of the breast tissue can be seen and assessed on a mammogram, and the patient told the results, this is “not happening routinely.”

“There’s a lot of interest in breast density worldwide. In the US they have a site called ‘Are you dense?’ which was started by a woman whose cancer was missed. Now, 32 US states have breast density legislation, requiring patients receiving mammograms to be told what theirs is.

Awareness is a very important thing. We are not all of equal risk,” she warns.

Source: Supplied. Breast cancer density on mammogram.

Source: Supplied. Breast cancer density on mammogram.Source:BodyAndSoul

Dr Rickard’s recommended solution is additional preventative screenings, and knowing your personal risk, which is where online tools can help.

“The recently launched Pink Hope’s Know Your Risk online tool can give the individual an understanding of whether they are or aren’t at risk through the types of questions covered regarding family history of first degree female relatives, lifestyle factors and breast density,” says Dr Rickard.

It is estimated in Australia 660,000 women are at a moderate to high risk of breast and ovarian cancer and the research shows most of them don’t know it.

So how is breast density measured?

Dr Rickard explains that in Australia the reporting system uses four categories based on area percentage density.

“The radiologist or software program will look at what parts are white or dense compared to the whole area. It’s then grouped in 0-25, 25-50, 50-75, 75+.

“We know that if you have the highest category which is 75+, compared to those with 11 per cent or less density, you have five times the risk of developing breast cancer,” she says.

Dr Rickard doesn’t want the information to send you on a search and destroy mission, but rather to be armed with potentially life-saving information.

“If breast density is not in the report when you have a mammogram, just ask.”

Pink Hope have developed a tool to help you check your risk factors and manage risk, which launched last month.

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