Cancer Risk Factor: Breaking Down Breast Density - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Cancer Risk Factor: Breaking Down Breast Density

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Across the country several states are passing laws making it mandatory that women be notified they have it after getting a mammogram. While there's debate on how important it is for women to know, one doctor thinks it could change how breast care is provided.

For Carolyn Achenbach, her hobby of gardening was a haven when she got upsetting news.

"I found out that I had breast cancer, it was pretty scary," said Carolyn Achenbach, cancer survivor.

Nine months, a lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy helped her beat it. But then…

"I did have a second cancer," Achenbach told Ivanhoe.

Carolyn is among the ten percent of American women with dense breast tissue. A recent study by the National Cancer Institute shows those with dense breasts were no more likely to die than patients whose tissue wasn't as dense, but dense tissue has been associated with a four to six-fold increase in a woman's risk of developing breast cancer; partly because tumors in dense tissue can be harder to spot with a mammogram.

"Mammography is the most effective tool that we have for detecting breast cancer. The way we measure breast density is not very good," said Jennifer Harvey, M.D., a Professor of Radiology and Director of Breast Imaging at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Harvey is a breast imaging expert. She said right now there is no easy way to measure breast density. So, she's developing something to help women better understand their cancer risk.

"Our goal in this study is that we are going to include breast density into a risk model. It will be here is your result and here is you risk of breast cancer," explained Dr. Harvey.

The doctor believes the personalized model could help women determine how often they should get mammograms, instead of relying on age-based recommendations. Carolyn fought her second battle with cancer and won and she still gets a mammogram every year.

The first phase of Dr. Harvey's risk model study is being funded by a five and a half million dollar government grant. It will continue to be developed over the next three years. If successful, the model could be available for widespread use within six years.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

MAMMOGRAPHY: A mammogram is a tool used to screen women for breast cancer by taking x-ray pictures of the breasts. When a mammogram is done before signs or symptoms of breast cancer, it is called a screening mammogram. It recommended that women over the age of 40 get screening mammograms every one to two years because regular mammograms have shown to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in women between 40 and 70 years old. Mammograms that are performed after a lump or other sign of breast cancer have been found is called a diagnostic mammogram. Diagnostic mammograms have more x-ray pictures of the breast than screening mammograms do, and they may also focus on and magnify the suspicious area or lump to help determine if a biopsy is necessary. (Source: www.cancer.gov)

RISKS: Risks associated with getting a mammogram are false-positives, false-negatives, over diagnosis and overtreatment, and radiation exposure. False-positives will sometimes happen if doctors believe the mammogram to be abnormal when no cancer is actually present. For women a false-positive can cause a lot of worry and anxiety, as well as unnecessary tests and biopsies being done. False-negatives, when a mammogram seems normal but cancer is actually present, can be harmful in that a person may not receive treatment until much later on because the cancer was unknown. Over diagnosis and overtreatment refer to cancer diagnoses that will actually never threaten a woman's life, but they are treated for breast cancer all the same because doctors cannot tell a difference. The final risk, radiation exposure, is not very threatening. Although there is some radiation exposure during a mammogram, it is a very small amount and should not be harmful. The only time radiation exposure is cause for concern is if a person has repeated x-rays more often than usual. (Source: www.cancer.gov)

BREAST DENSITY: Breast density has been found to play a significant role in a person's risk of developing breast cancer. Breast density is the amount of white area on a breast that is shown on a mammogram, and women with exceptionally high breast density have a three- to fivefold increase in their risk for breast cancer. Certain women will naturally have denser breasts than others. In general, white women have higher breast densities and breast density will decrease as a woman enters menopause. However, some women's breast density continues to be high even after menopause and they are at a particularly high risk for breast cancer. It is not yet clear why breast density is related to a person's risk of breast cancer, but there are currently studies aimed at finding a better method for assessing breast cancer risk using breast density. (Source: www.cancer.gov)

For More Information, Please Contact:

Jennifer A. Harvey, M.D., F.A.C.R., Professor of Radiology
University of Virginia Health System
jah7w@virginia.edu

(434) 982-1036

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