Increased Risk of Breast Cancer in Women with Dense Breast Tissue: Study Findings
Women who have had breast cancer in one breast may be at an increased risk of developing it in the other if they carry specific genetic mutations, new research shows. Breasts with dense tissue are made up of more glandular and fibrous tissue, and less fatty tissue. It is a normal and common finding present in about half of women undergoing mammograms and is associated with a 1.2 to four times higher risk of breast cancer compared with a two times higher risk associated with having a first-degree relative with breast cancer.
However, a recent study published in JAMA Network Open found that 93% of women surveyed said they believed breast density was a lesser risk. Despite laws requiring women be notified about breast density found on mammograms, women did not describe a strong understanding of this risk, leading the researchers to conclude that improved clinician communication was needed.
It is recommended that women of average risk for breast cancer should receive breast cancer screening annually or biannually between the ages of 40 and 74. However, other studies have shown that imaging tests like an ultrasound or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find some breast cancers that can’t be seen on mammograms.
The study, conducted by the Cancer Risk Estimates Related to Susceptibility Genes (CARRIERS) consortium, followed a cohort of 15,104 women with genetic risks for breast cancer. The average age of initial breast cancer diagnosis in the study was 62, with follow-up occurring after an average of 11 years.
The researchers found that for carriers of the PALB2 gene, the risk was dependent on other factors. They had a significantly elevated risk of cancer in both breasts if they had estrogen receptor-negative disease. For carriers of the ATM gene, there was no increased risk.
The findings may help physicians and patients make decisions about how to best screen for and treat their breast cancers. Breast cancer doctors stress that in addition to appropriate screening, knowing your risk factors and advocating for yourself can be powerful tools in preventing and detecting breast cancer.
Women should discuss their risk factors with their doctor and be aware that breast density affects their risk. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging encourage women in these age groups to maximize the lifesaving benefits of mammography by continuing annual screening if the patient is in reasonably good health and expected to live at least five to 10 more years.
0. “Many women underestimate breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer, study shows” KTBS, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.ktbs.com/news/health/many-women-underestimate-breast-density-as-a-risk-factor-for-breast-cancer-study-shows/article_2f021f46-4b33-5d4b-b387-53fa9f5b930f.html
1. “Don’t Underestimate Breast Density as a Cancer Risk” Moffitt Cancer Center, 23 Jan. 2023, https://moffitt.org/endeavor/archive/dont-underestimate-breast-density-as-a-cancer-risk
2. “Four Germline Mutations Up Risk of Contralateral Breast Cancer” Medpage Today, 24 Jan. 2023, https://www.medpagetoday.com/hematologyoncology/breastcancer/102790
3. “Study Links Genetic Changes to Higher Risk of Cancer in Both Breasts” Health.com, 26 Jan. 2023, https://www.health.com/genetic-mutation-second-breast-cancer-7098879
4. “Research Gives Clues to Why Cancer in One Breast Could Develop in the Other” News-shield, 24 Jan. 2023, https://www.news-shield.com/lifestyles/homes/article_6851b3f9-661f-56e8-8f42-f81754cda51e.html