dense breast tissue

Dense Breast Tissue Screening

Using ABUS (Automated Breast Ultrasound Screening)

Breast density is a measure used to describe the ratios of the different tissues that make up a woman’s breast. Breasts are made up of fat and breast tissue (which includes the milk ducts and lobules). Connective tissue holds everything together. Density is not a measure of how the breast feels, but instead how the breast looks on a mammogram.

What Is High Breast Density?

High breast density means there is a larger amount of breast and connective tissue compared to fat. Low breast density means that there is a greater amount of fat compared to breast and connective tissue. Mammograms of dense breasts are harder to read than mammograms of fatty breasts.

In-Office Screening

At Alaska Breast Care and Surgery, we are proud to offer an additional method of screening to women with dense breast tissue. We have an Automated Breast Ultrasound System (ABUS) right here in the office. ABUS is designed specifically for breast cancer screening in women who’s screening mammogram findings were benign, but were found to have dense breast tissue. Our ABUS machine utilizes 3D imaging technology that uses sound waves instead of radiation to visualize breast tissue. The exam takes roughly 30 minutes and results are typically returned within 10-15 days. While the ABUS is an excellent supplementary screening tool, it does not replace the need for routine screening mammograms. Most insurance companies cover the imaging, as it is considered medically necessary for women with dense breast tissue.

Is Screening Breast Ultrasound Right for You?

We decided to bring screening breast ultrasound technology to Alaska based on our history of working with breast cancer patients over the years. Mammograms do a great job of finding many breast cancers, and they can find them at an early stage when they are usually highly curable. However, there is a subset of women who end up feeling betrayed by their mammograms. They would go in every year without fail for their mammogram, only to one day wake up and feel a lump in their breast and be told that they had breast cancer that had not been detected by their mammogram. The breast cancer is then easily seen on ultrasound. This is most likely to happen in women with dense breasts. There has been a growing interest in offering women with dense breast tissue screening breast ultrasound in addition to a mammogram. Technologies have been developed, such as our ABUS machine, to allow women to be screening with ultrasound in a reliable manner.

Ultrasound Availability

Seventeen states now have laws in place that require that women with dense breasts be offered screening breast ultrasound. This legislation was based on research that showed a 50% increase in the rate of finding breast cancers in women with dense breasts who added yearly screening breast ultrasound. While Alaska is not one of those states, we do have the technology. If you are interested, you should have a mammogram that reports your breast density as 1) extremely dense, 2) dense, or 3) heterogeneously dense. The study can be ordered by your primary care provider.

If you’re interested, please take this ABUS form to your primary care provider and have them send it our way.