Wellness Matters

What's New in Breast Cancer Screening?

October 27, 2014

By: Deborah Schoenhoff, MD
Women's Health Network
Cone Health Medical Group
Deborah Schoenhoff, MD

New Law, New Technology for Women

You receive a letter in the mail with your mammography result indicating that you may have dense breast tissue, but you are not sure what this means or if any further action is required. Beginning this year, a new law in North Carolina requires mammography providers to tell you about your breast density.


What is breast density and why am I being notified of this?

Extremely dense breasts means that a high proportion of a woman’s breast tissue is made of glandular or fibrous rather than fatty tissue. When viewed on a mammogram, dense areas of the breasts are white and fatty tissue is black. Very dense tissue makes standard digital mammograms harder to read and may lead to false positive findings. Also, having very dense breasts is an additional risk factor for breast cancer. By having this information, you can better talk about your risk of breast cancer with your health care provider. Having dense breast tissue is very common – up to 40 percent of women have dense breasts. Dense breasts are more common among young women.  Having dense breasts is not a cause for alarm, but should prompt a discussion with a knowledgeable provider.

What is this new 3-D mammogram I am hearing about?

Fortunately, we have advanced technology known as 3-D mammography (also called breast tomosynthesis) to improve the radiologist’s ability to detect breast cancer in women who have dense breasts. Current digital mammography provides images in two dimensions, while 3-D imaging allows a layer-by-layer visualization of the breast tissue. This provides much greater detail and fewer “call backs” for further diagnostic testing. Several studies have shown that the false positive rate with this technology decreases by 40 percent. 3-D mammography may mean a higher co-pay and X-ray facilities will usually give women the option for this new procedure. Cone Health offers this new addition to breast cancer screening for women in our community at its Women’s Hospital Imaging Department. The Breast Center of Greensboro, in partnership with Cone Health, also provides 3-D mammography. Talk with your health care provider to see if 3-D mammography is a good option for you.

This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of Guilford Women magazine.    

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