Women in the United States may not be adequately aware of breast density and its complications. Legislation that requires providers to discuss a woman’s breast density is likely to help build awareness. These findings were reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Breasts are considered dense if they have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fatty tissue. Research has shown that dense breasts are more likely to develop cancer, a problem compounded by the fact that cancer in dense breasts can be difficult to detect on mammograms. Due to this association, legislation has been passed in 21 states that requires providers to notify women when dense breast tissue is found on their mammogram.

Despite the important effect that breast density has on breast cancer risk and mammogram outcomes, many women may not understand this relationship. To determine how well women tend to understand the risks associated with dense breast tissue, researchers surveyed 2,311 women across the United States. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish. More women were surveyed in Connecticut because this is the only state that has required, for more than one year before the survey, providers to notify women about dense breast tissue.

Sixty-five percent of the 2,311 women surveyed responded. Of these 58% said that they had heard of breast density, and almost half (49%) were aware that dense breasts could make it harder to detect cancer with a mammogram. About half (53%) knew that breast density could be linked with increased cancer risk.

Women who were aware of breast density tended to be non-Hispanic, have a higher household income, and a higher level of education. Those who had discussed their mammogram with their doctor and had undergone postmenopausal hormone therapy also had higher awareness of breast density. Women who were aware of the increased difficulty in cancer detection association with breast density tended to have a higher household income and have undergone a previous breast biopsy. Women who lived in Connecticut also were more likely to understand the complications of breast density and have discussed them with their doctor.

According to this survey, awareness of breast density differs by race/ethnicity and education and income levels. Based on the higher awareness observed in Connecticut, legislation that requires providers to inform women about their breast density appears to effectively increase awareness. This may be an effective strategy for increasing understanding of breast density and associated complications.

Reference: Rhodes DJ, Radecki Breitkopf C, Ziegenfuss JY, Jenkins SM, Vachon CM. Awareness of Breast Density and Its Impact on Breast Cancer Detection and Risk. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2015 Apr 1;33(10):1143-50. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2014.57.0325.


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