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Digital mammography safest, most effective screening method for women with dense breast tissue

Digital mammography is the safest and most effective screening method for women who have dense breasts or whose breasts have more fibroglandular (glandular tissue and connective tissue combined) tissue than fatty tissue, said an imaging specialist with the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

"There is some confusion about the proper screening steps to take for women who have dense breast tissue," said Dr. Emily Sedgwick, director of breast imaging in the Smith Breast Center. "Some women may be concerned that they should forego mammograms for ultrasounds or MRIs."

Digital mammogram vs. Analog mammograms

Sedgwick reassured women with dense breast tissue that they can opt for mammograms, so long as they are done with digital mammography technology.

Both dense fibroglandular tissue and cancer appear white on a mammogram (as opposed to fatty tissue which appears black), making mammograms harder to interpret, Sedgwick explained.

Digital mammography, as opposed to analog mammography, provides specialists with an image on a computer that can be enhanced in greater detail to spot the difference in fibroglandular tissue and cancer, she said.

It is important to limit a patient's radiation exposure to only those tests that are absolutely necessary, she added.

BCM imaging specialists use digital mammography resources at both the Baylor Clinic and the Harris Health System's Smith Clinic site.

Influence of caffeine

There has been some speculation that caffeine contributes to the development of dense breasts.

"There is no evidence of this association," said Sedgwick. "Feel free to enjoy your caffeine in moderation."

She reemphasized that all women with a normal risk for breast cancer should begin screening annually at age 40.

However, women with a family history of breast cancer (a primary relative – mom, father or sibling) should begin screening earlier. "Begin annual screening 10 years prior to that family member's diagnosis," Sedgwick said.

Other breast cancer prevention tips include:

  • Maintain a normal weight
  • Exercise routinely
  • Minimize alcohol intake
  • Do not take hormone replacement therapy after menopause