Breast Density Alone May Not Be A Factor For Breast Cancer Risk

First Posted: Dec 11, 2015 12:41 PM EST

Breast density alone is not thought to be a contributing factor to breast cancer, according to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The study authors pointed towards age and body fat as more important co-factors leading toward the health issue.

While several studies have suggested that women with denser breast tissue have an increased risk of breast cancer, researchers found that older women, particularly with upper belly fat, were at a higher risk for the disease.

"Many studies that link breast density to breast cancer risk used data from mammograms, which can't accurately measure breast density," said Wenlian Zhu, Ph.D., a research associate in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a news release. "Our research may help dispel the assertion that breast density alone is something women should be worried about with regard to their breast cancer risk, and it may help minimize confusion and unnecessary concern."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently lists dense breasts as an increased risk for breast cancer. Dense breasts are classified as less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue when compared to breasts that aren't dense, according to Breast density can be measured via a mammogram as well as other types of examinations.

During the study, researchers looked to see if breast density was an independent factor for breast cancer. They examined 3-D, T1-weighted MRI breast scans done between 2007 and 2014 on 410 patients with invasive cancer in one breast, 73 patients with ductal carcinoma in situ (the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer that begins inside the milk ducts), and 361 women with no evidence of breast cancer. The imaging technique used offers high contrast between fatty and dense glandular breast tissues, giving a more accurate measurement of breast density.

The researchers also used looked at MRI scans to measure adiposity through fatty tissue thickness in the upper abdomen right benat the breast--searching for links among breast cancer and breast density, body adiposity and age.

Findings revealed a strong correlation between age and adiposity when it came to breast cancer. However, there was an insignificant correlation between breast cancer and breast density. Researchers believe that this may be because women with dense breasts tend to be young and lean--both factors associated with a lower breast cancer risk.

However, more studies will be needed as researchers did not specifically examine interactions among breast density in older women, age and adiposity.

The study is published in the journal European Radiology.

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