Mammograms save lives. However, women with dense breasts are less likely to get the information they and their doctors need from mammograms alone. Dense breasts can hide small cancers in mammograms, so they are not found until they are larger and harder to treat. Screening breast ultrasound can make a difference.
What are dense breasts?
About 40% of women over 40 have dense breasts, according to the Yale School of Medicine. Dense breasts have more fibrous or glandular tissue and less fat. They may be more vulnerable to cancer, and it can be harder to see cancers in dense breast tissue.
Dense breasts are a risk factor for breast cancer.
Beginning in 2019, under the updated Mammography Quality Standards Act, doctors are required to inform women if they have dense breasts. That information helps women to make good decisions about their health.
What is screening breast ultrasound?
Screening breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make a picture of the inside of a breast. It can see through the dense tissue of the breast.
A gel is put on the breast and a tool called a transducer is moved across the breast. It sends sound waves into the breast, and they send back echoes which create the computer picture of the breast.
Automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) uses a much larger transducer and creates hundreds of images showing the entire breast. ABUS can show more of the breast tissue than a handheld transducer which takes pictures of specific areas of the breast.
Ultrasound is not invasive and it does not expose the patient to radiation. It is not painful.
Is ultrasound screening an alternative to mammograms?
Mammograms continue to be the gold standard for breast cancer screenings. Screening Breast Ultrasound is used in addition to mammograms, especially for women with dense breasts. Talk with your doctor to see whether it is the right choice for you.