University of Notre Dame | October 30, 2016
In the United States alone, there are nearly 240,000 breast cancer diagnoses each year, and one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her lifetime. To date, mammograms are the best diagnostic technology for breast cancer. A mammogram’s ability to detect tumors at early stages has made breast cancer one of the most treatable forms of cancer, but there are still almost 50,000 missed diagnoses every year.
For many women, that missed diagnosis comes from having dense breast tissue which prohibits clear results from a basic mammogram. Breasts are made up of three types of tissue: fatty, fibrous and glandular. Most women have a mix of the three, but if the fibrous and glandular tissue outweigh the fatty tissue, women are classified as having dense breasts, wherein lies the problem.
Fatty tissue appears transparent on X-rays which makes abnormalities like microcalcifications and tumors easy to see. However, fibrous and glandular tissue are less transparent which makes it difficult to detect abnormalities in a mammogram.