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Dense Breasts Complicate Testing and Treatment
Date:4/16/2009

Risk factor is one women can do little about, experts say

THURSDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- For years, researchers have known that breast density is almost as important as age in predicting who will develop breast cancer.

But now they're discovering how the density of a woman's breast tissue can also predict how she will respond to cancer treatment and whether her cancer will recur.

The denser a woman's breasts, the less fat they have, explained Diana Buist, an epidemiologist at Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle. "If you have a dense breast, it's harder to see breast tumors on a mammogram."

Women with dense breasts are more likely to have abnormal mammograms, Buist added. "Density on a mammogram is white, cancer on a mammogram is white," she said, so that makes it more difficult to detect signs of cancer and can prompt reports of possible abnormalities.

About 10 percent to 15 percent of women have low-density breasts, another 10 percent to 15 percent have very dense breasts, and the rest have breasts with a density somewhere in the middle, said Dr. Karla Kerlikowske, a professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

But the average woman may not have a clue whether her breasts are dense, she added.

For one thing, Kerlikowske said, it's not as easy to measure density as it is to measure cholesterol, for instance. "In the last 10 years, a lot of researchers have focused on how to measure it better, and what does it mean to have that density," she said.

Kerlikowske was part of a research team that discovered that high breast density predicts local, but not distant, recurrence of cancer after a lumpectomy and radiation for invasive breast cancer. The finding was published in the January issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics.

Another group of researchers
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