Do You Have Dense Breast Tissue?

Once again I had one of those phone calls that takes my breath away and takes the wind out of my sails.  A friend was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer this week and the reason it was found so late is due to DENSE BREAST TISSUE.  She had a mammogram a year ago, and was told it was fine.  In October of 2017 she said she felt something was wrong in her breast.  She went to her Primary Care Physician who prescribed some antibiotics for a breast infection.  In December, my friend still felt something was drastically wrong.  Finally, they did the mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy and discovered the breast cancer.  Her tumor was already 5 cm and had infiltrated to a large number of lymph nodes.  She is starting chemo this week.

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows I am constantly preaching about DENSE BREAST TISSUE.  Over 40% of women have Dense Breast Tissue (NOT just young women – women well into their 70s and 80s can have it). If you have Dense Breast Tissue, you can be Stage 4 before you know anything is even going on as often tumors are not picked up on mammograms. Dense breast tissue appears white on mammograms and so do tumors. I’ve heard from COUNTLESS women about this fact many have gotten their yearly mammograms and got the all clear right up until diagnosis.

When my sister was diagnosed Stage 3C Breast Cancer 3 years ago, she had dense breast tissue, didn’t realize it and was told only once by our family doctor back when she was having children in her 20s and 30s. She really did not know what that could mean for her and was never told. On her regular mammogram, which was a 3D technology/tomosynthesis mammogram which is supposed to be better at detecting tumors in dense breast tissue, an area of compressed tissue showed. That’s all. THANK GOD our local hospital biopsied, not because they thought it was cancer, but based on family history of my diagnosis and my mom’s diagnosis, they wanted to make sure nothing was hiding behind that area.  Because Diann was so paranoid because of my diagnosis and mom’s diagnosis, she gave herself a breast exam every 2 weeks.  She never felt a thing even though her tumor was 3 cm at diagnosis.


Now with my friend’s diagnosis, this makes me MORE DETERMINED to get the word out there about dense breast tissue. It is not something easy to talk about it.  But the discussion is necessary.
This from about dense breast tissue:
Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren’t dense. One way to measure breast density is the thickness of tissue on a mammogram. Another categorizes breast patterns into four types depending on which type of tissue makes up most of the breast. Still, no one method of measuring breast density has been agreed upon by doctors. Breast density is not based on how your breasts feel during your self-exam or your doctor’s physical exam. Dense breasts have more gland tissue that makes and drains milk and supportive tissue (also called stroma) that surrounds the gland. Breast density can be inherited, so if your mother has dense breasts, it’s likely you will, too.
Research has shown that dense breasts:
can be 6 times more likely to develop cancer
can make it harder for mammograms to detect breast cancer; breast cancers (which look white like breast gland tissue) are easier to see on a mammogram when they’re surrounded by fatty tissue (which looks dark).

Over half of US States have laws that say women who have dense breast tissue must be notified. Obviously, this doesn’t always happen.
So what to do?
1) Ask the question of every health care provider you have if you have dense breast tissue.
2) If you have dense breast tissue, even if your mammogram comes back okay, INSIST, INSIST, INSIST on an ultrasound. Call your insurance company. Tell them you have dense breast tissue. In most cases it covers. If it doesn’t, ask to talk to a Supervisor. If you can’t get them to pay, do it anyway. Make payments. Your life is worth it.
3) If anything is questionable on the ultrasound, INSIST, INSIST, INSIST on further testing. What is further testing?
A breast MRI or the newest technology – Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI). I  wrote about this technology in February, 2015 as recent studies have shown it quadruples detection of breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue!!
PLEASE, I beg you, have this conversation with your doctors, with your mammogram provider, and with your friends.  Your life depends upon it.


  1. I did as well. Diagnosed at Stage III… 8 cm tumor!! Luckily there was only a micro-metastasis in the lymph nodes. I kept getting told ‘it’s just cysts…” I’ll be sharing this! Thank you!

    • Oh my, 8 cm tumor and only micro-metastasis in the nodes. Now that is miraculous!
      You get the prize for the largest tumor least amount of nodes award from me!
      Thank you for sharing this post. We have to keep getting the word out there.
      I am SO SORRY that you found yourself in this position as well. ALL MY BEST!

  2. Another great post Denise- I’m sending it out to girlfriends! Yes- I was in the dense breast club and yes….ended up with BC!

  3. Actually about 90% of women, especially women younger than 60, have dense breast tissue; yes 90% according to several OB/GYN’s I personally know & consult as a physician. Dense breast tissue is the radiologist’s way of wiggling out of misreading a mammogram, ordering more tests such as MRI ( which may be useless) & ultrasound – all of which add to more biopsies, higher medical costs & not necessarily earlier diagnosis. If you feel a lump or an itchy area ( in my case), get it biopsied. Do not accept no as an answer; do not accept waiting 2-3 weeks for a biopsy.. You know your body & what’s new & abnormal. Density is just a way for radiologists to try to escape a medical malpractice case down the line.

    • Thanks so much for your info – much appreciated and good advice about lump or itchy area.
      I would add pain as I had a lot of pain in the area where my tumor was. Appreciate your post
      very much!

  4. Thanks for the post. I also wish I had known about this sooner. I had an “all clear”mammogram in Dec 2016 and less than a year later had a diagnosis of Stage 2b triple positive BC ( all nodes clear) with tumor 10 cm in size! How could that have been missed the year before? I now INSIST on an ultrasound along with the mammo on my remaining breast. It is so sad that this information about dense breast tissue is known, but not being shared like it should. Thanks for raising awareness.

    • OHMYGOSH – I just told another gal on her that she gets my prize for largest tumor (8cm) with one micromet node.
      Now I have to take that away from her and give it to you! I AM SO SORRY that you had a 10 cm tumor one year later.
      Obviously, it was not clear the year before as you were told! I’ve had women tell me they had the all clear and then
      felt the lump! So glad you INSIST on an ultrasound on your remaining breast! We shall keep spreading the news!
      All my best to you!!!

  5. Thank You Denise for ALWAYS keeping us informed !!!!!!!!! Appreciate all that you do for All of us ladies with your Blog also…. an Very useful information you give to each of use. YOU are Appreciated my friend 🙂

  6. Denise – I have been told for years that I had negative mammos and dense tissue. Further investigation was never suggested. Last June, after negative mammo but enlarged axillary nodes, I was diagnosed with a 5-6 cm tumor that never showed up even on ultrasound. It was only seen on MRI. The biopsy material was never tested for susceptibility to chemo. I had the chemo first in hopes of shrinking the tumor. Upon partial mastectomy the pathology showed that the tumor was not very effected and was just as big. I am left with atrial fibrillation and moderate neuropathy hands and feet, fatigue. The tumor was staged as 3a, stage 1 with 2 out of 30 nodes positive. Radiation has been completed. I am still short of breath. I am 79 years old so hoping that the cancer never raises it’s ugly head again but that black cloud remains over my head. I am fortunate that I have an understanding, supportive and loving husband and supportive children as well. I also think that something needs to be done about those of us who have dense breast tissue. We cannot depend on simply mammograms. I think it probably has something to do with insurance issues.

    • Hi Grace, I am SO GLAD that you wrote to me and to others on this blog post about Dense Breast Tissue. Dense Breast Tissue is totally misunderstood. At 79 years old, you still had dense breast tissue and your tumor didn’t even show up on mammogram or ultrasound.
      One thing that is surprising is that you had such a large tumor, but so few nodes involved. My tumor was 6 cm and had 10 nodes involved.

      I think you are so right about insurance issues. I am constantly telling women to pay for that ultra sound out-of-pocket if you have to, but in
      your case, ultrasound did not show it.
      There is a good website I would suggest checking out called
      Sending all my best wishes to you!! Again, thank you so much for writing and sending all my best wishes to you!!

      • Hi Denise – thanks for your prompt response. I’m supposing that the fact that it was a large tumor but a grade 1 fairly non-aggressive tumor cell was why there were only two nodes involved. My surgeon surmised that it had been there for 10 years. Isn’t that crazy? This whole thing has been kind of crazy. Breast cancer, because of almost 30 years of negative mammos, was definitely NOT on my radar. No family history either. In addition to the fact that it was ONLY seen on MRI was crazy as well, IMHO. And then the chemo didn’t do a whole lot. So, I’m trying to deal with the aftermath. I sort of sailed through the treatment but I think I”m having a delayed reaction to everything – almost depressed even though I am having a happy life with a wonderful husband. I hope that lifts after I have my first follow up in Oct.
        I love your blog and will visit often. Many thanks,

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