Ultrasound Plus Mammogram Recommended for Women with Dense Breasts

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Cancer screening for women with dense breasts should include whole-breast ultrasound as well as mammograms, according to new guidelines from the American Society of Breast Disease (ASBD).

Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more non-fatty tissue compared to breasts that aren't dense. Women with dense breasts can be 6 times more likely to develop cancer. Adding ultrasound to annual mammograms improves breast cancer detection in women with dense breasts. Ultrasound is particularly good at finding small breast cancers that haven’t spread to the lymph nodes yet. But mammograms are still needed because ultrasound alone doesn't detect all types of breast cancers.

If you don’t know if you have dense breasts, talk to your doctor. Breast density is visible on a mammogram, but mammogram results do not always provide that information.

If you have a higher risk of breast cancer because you have dense breasts, you and your doctor will develop a screening plan tailored to your unique situation. General recommended screening guidelines include:

  • a monthly breast self-exam
  • a yearly breast exam by your doctor
  • a digital mammogram every year starting at age 40

Digital mammography is better than film mammography in women with dense breasts, regardless of age.

Your personal screening plan also may include:

  • MRI
  • ultrasound

Talk to your doctor about developing a specialized program for early detection that meets your individual needs and gives you peace of mind.

To get the best information from your breast imaging studies, it's important to:

  • compare this year's study to prior years' studies
  • correlate the information from the imaging studies (what you feel in the breast compared to the results of your mammogram, MRI, and ultrasound)

Usually test reports will say if the most recent imaging test is different from other tests or earlier results from the same test.

To keep track of your test results, you may want to get a copy of each imaging report and put them in a binder.

For more information on ultrasound and other tests used to detect breast cancer, visit the Breastcancer.org Screening and Testing pages.

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