Dense breast tissue has been associated with up to a four times higher risk of breast cancer. However, a new study suggests few women view breast density as a significant risk factor.
The study, published in JAMA Network Open, surveyed 1,858 women ages 40 to 76 years from 2019 to 2020 who reported having recently undergone mammography, had no history of breast cancer and had heard of breast density.
Women were asked to compare the risk of breast density to five other breast cancer risk factors: having a first-degree relative with breast cancer, being overweight or obese, drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day, never having children and having a prior breast biopsy.
“When compared to other known and perhaps more well-known breast cancer risks, women did not perceive breast density as significant of a risk,” said Laura Beidler, an author of the study and researcher at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.
For example, the authors report that dense breast tissue 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 – but 93% of women said breast density was a lesser risk.
Dense breasts tissue refers to breasts that are composed of more glandular and fibrous tissue than fatty tissue. It is a normal and common finding present in about half of women undergoing mammograms.
The researchers also interviewed 61 participants who reported being notified of their breast density and asked what they thought contributes to breast cancer and how they could reduce their risk. While most women correctly noted that breast density could mask tumors on mammograms, few women felt that breast density could be a risk factor for breast cancer.
Roughly one-third of women thought there was nothing they could do to reduce their breast cancer risk, although there are several ways to reduce risk, including maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle and minimizing alcohol consumption.
Breast density changes over a woman’s lifetime, and is generally higher in women who are younger, have a lower body weight, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking hormone replacement therapy.
The level of breast cancer risk increases…