April 27, 2009 / 5:15 PM / 10 years ago

Dense breasts found in many older women, too

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In general, a woman’s breasts get less dense as she ages. However, a new study shows that there remain a substantial proportion of older women with very dense breasts — a finding that could have important implications for breast cancer screening.

Dense breast tissue can cloud tumors on mammography. “Our data,” Dr. Freya Schnabel from NYU Cancer Center in New York, told Reuters Health, “would suggest that mammographic density, in conjunction with age and overall breast cancer risk assessment, should be considered when assessing the potential benefit of other imaging studies in addition to yearly mammography.”

Prior research has linked having dense breasts to a 4- to 6-fold increased risk of developing breast cancer, compared to women with less dense breasts. Moreover, dense breasts may impair the sensitivity of screening mammography, as mentioned. Younger age is a well-known correlate of dense breasts, whereas the percentage of older women with dense breasts is unknown.

To investigate, Schnabel’s team analyzed data from 500 consecutive patients who had annual screening mammography and were entered in the NYU institutional radiology database.

Overall, 4 percent of women were younger than 40 years of age, 27 percent were 40 to 49 years, 30 percent were 50 to 59 years, 24 percent were 60 to 69 years, 9 percent were 70 to 79 years, and 6 percent were 80 years and older.

As expected, breast density was highest in younger women. Among women in their 40s, for instance, 74 percent had dense breasts.

Nonetheless, dense breasts were still common among older women. Dense breasts were seen in 54 percent, 42 percent, and 31 percent of women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, respectively.

The findings were presented at the 10th annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons in San Diego, California.

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