Dense breast tissue: Frequently asked questions

If you or someone you know is dealing with a breast health issue, now is the time to start asking questions.

The more you learn about today's latest treatments, technologies, and breast pathologies, the better equipped you'll be to make smart decisions concerning tests, treatment plans, and recovery. This is particularly true if you have a history of breast disease or have "dense" breast tissue. 

Do I have dense breast tissue and does it matter?

This is one of the most basic breast health questions every woman should ask. If you have a history of breast disease or what is called radiographically dense breast tissue (which your care provider can tell you), you will need to be more proactive about breast health. In fact, dense breast tissue increases the risk of breast cancer up to five times.

I have dense breast tissue, what should I do?

You will want to partner closely with your health care provider to ensure you're getting regular check-ups. You will also want to ask about technologies optimized for assessing breast health in those considered difficult-to-scan or at higher risk.

Are there specific breast scan technologies I should know about?

One of the most promising new technologies is automated 3D ultrasound. Instead of 2D images, this powerful ultrasound technology gives physicians a much more realistic view of the whole breast and its physical structures; providing multiple views–side to side, back and front, and more.

Should I ask to be scanned with a 3D ultrasound system?

If you have dense breast tissue or a history of breast disease, it's something you should definitely discuss with your healthcare provider. Ultrasound is an established tool for imaging dense breast tissue. It has the unique ability to distinguish between fatty and dense breast tissue, as well as being non-ionizing, meaning there is no radiation.

Does 3D ultrasound replace mammography?

Absolutely not. Mammography is considered the gold standard in breast screening, but it misses or overlooks roughly 10 percent of the cancers in women with dense breast tissue. It's been reported that a single screening ultrasound following a standard mammogram increases detection of breast cancers that are small and node-negative.

Is the 3D ultrasound scan painful?

If you've experienced a traditional mammogram, it's completely understandable why you ask. You'll be pleased to know the answer is no. It is a relatively painless, quick, and comfortable exam.

What's the exam process like?

You lie on a table, and a lotion is applied to your breast. A stabilizing membrane is attached to the ultrasound scanner to minimize breast movement and the scanner is placed on your breast. The scan takes approximately 60 seconds and typically three scans are done one each breast. The entire exam is usually finished in less than 10 minutes.

How do I get a supplemental 3D scan?

Talk with your health care provider about your condition and whether a 3D scan makes sense. An increasing number of breast centers and radiology departments are investing in this state-of-the-art breast technology.

Will the procedure be covered by my insurance?

Consult with your healthcare provider and insurance company.

Last reviewed: 
June 2016

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