Dense breasts is more than a descriptor of breast mass. It’s a condition that can have health consequences.
This week, children’s book author Judy Blume announced on her blog that she recently received a diagnosis of breast cancer after getting a routine ultrasound, and then underwent a mastectomy. She made a point of saying that her dense breast tissue had made her cancer impossible to detect through either a physical exam or mammogram.
Breast density can indeed prevent mammography from highlighting suspicious markings. The dense tissue literally blocks the view. That’s why an ultrasound is the better detection option for women who have dense breasts.
Not surprisingly, hormones are a big factor in many breast-related conditions. Young women have more circulating hormones; therefore, their breast tissue is typically dense. That’s because breast tissue contains estrogen receptors, a destination for circulating estrogen. When the liver can’t break down the body’s excess estrogen, then the risk of estrogen-related breast cancer increases.
Fat also plays a role in breast density. Because estrogen loves fat, premenopausal women who are overweight are generally more at risk for breast cancer because their fat stores are greater than in women of normal weight. And fat stores in the breast will attract estrogen.
However, even slim premenopausal women who ingest more estrogen than normal through the environment–or through estrogen-mimickers in products, including skin care items, cosmetics, and plastic containers–are also at risk for denser breasts, if their livers are not helping rid the body of these substances.
Postmenopausal women produce only a small amount of hormones through their adrenals. These hormones are converted, in the fat cells, to estrogen and progesterone. However, postmenopausal women’s livers, which have often become more toxic over many years, may not be up to the task of breaking down even the small amount of circulating estrogen in their systems. Another factor that can increase breast density is hormone replacement therapy.
Next: Natural ways to reduce your risk