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Dense Breasts

The breast is made up of different types of tissue: glandular tissue and connective tissue. Breast density describes the relative amount of different tissues in the breast. A dense breast has less fat and more glandular and connective tissue. 

Our breast tissue changes as we age, generally becoming less dense the older we get, though some women continue to have dense breasts regardless of age. Research shows that women who have dense breasts have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

How can I tell if I have dense breasts?

Knowing if you have dense breasts is an important part of your overall breast awareness. However, you cannot determine your breast density by yourself. It has nothing to do with the size, look or feel of your breasts. It also has nothing to do with the usual changes you may experience as part of the menstrual cycle, when the breasts can feel tender or lumpy.

Having “dense breasts” is a clinical diagnosis that can only be assessed by mammography. If multiple members of your family have been diagnosed with dense breasts, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to speak to a health care provider about having a mammogram to assess your breast density.

I have dense breasts. What can I do?

If you have been diagnosed with dense breasts, you are at an increased risk for breast cancer and would benefit from regular breast screening by digital mammography or MRI.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to learn about your breast health, breast cancer risk, ways to reduce your risk, and the benefits and limitations of screening for the earlier detection of breast cancer. To inform your decisions, we also encourage you to consider speaking to a health care provider.

Established risk factors 

Non-modifiable Risk Factors Modifiable Risk Factors

Gender and age

Body weight

Personal cancer history

Physical activity

Family cancer history and genetics

Alcohol use

Early menstruation and late menopause

Smoking

Breast density

Exposure to hormones: the Pill, IVF, and HRT

Breast conditions

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

 

Radiation exposure

Sources:

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation–Ontario Region. (2010). Earlier Detection and Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: A Report from It’s About Time! A Consensus Conference.