The ques­tion you need to ask

Women urged to be­come ‘breast dense’ aware


NEW re­search re­veals Aussie women re­main in the dark on a com­mon risk fac­tor for breast can­cer and are urged to be­come “breast dense” aware.

Dense breasts are linked to a sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased risk of breast can­cer, yet a new na­tional sur­vey shows more than three quar­ters of women, 78%, don’t know if they’re among the two mil­lion women with the known risk fac­tor.

The sur­vey, com­mis­sioned by health or­gan­i­sa­tion Pink Hope, also shows two-thirds of women had no idea den­sity could ob­scure a le­sion or lump on a mam­mo­gram.

Pro­fes­sor Mary Theresa Rickard, chief ra­di­ol­o­gist at Syd­ney Breast Clinic, says the risks as­so­ci­ated with den­sity fall sec­ond only to those due to known gene mu­ta­tions.

Women can­not tell if they have dense breasts by the look or feel, it’s only the mam­mo­gram that can show the den­sity, Prof Rickard said.

“When we talk about den­sity we talk about how white is the breast on the mam­mo­gram. The whiter the mam­mo­gram the greater your risk of get­ting breast can­cer,” she said.

“Our chances of find­ing a can­cer on a dense breast are not as good as they are on find­ing it on a fatty breast, so there’s a greater chance that your can­cer will be missed if you have a dense breast.”

The ra­di­ol­o­gist says women need to be their “best breast ad­vo­cate” and ask the ques­tion at their next mam­mo­gram.

“If you know that your den­sity is high then you can make sure that your breast can­cer screen­ing is per­son­alised and tai­lored to your risk,” Prof Rickard said.

It’s some­thing can­cer ad­vo­cate Con­nie John­son cam­paigned for heav­ily dur­ing the last few years of her life — she died ear­lier this month after a long bat­tle with can­cer — urg­ing women to get their breasts checked.

Cur­rently, women ev­ery­where, ex­cept in Western Aus­tralia, have to ask the ra­di­ol­o­gist at the time of a mam­mo­gram if they have dense breasts, says Can­cer Coun­cil Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Pro­fes­sor Sanchia Aranda.

“There’s a bit of con­tro­versy in Aus­tralia at the mo­ment whether Breast­Screen should pro­vide that in­for­ma­tion to women, cur­rently they do only in WA and not in the other pro­grams and partly this is be­cause we don’t ac­tu­ally know what the ev­i­dence-based ad­vice would be,” Prof Aranda said.

Be­cause of this, Pink Hope is call­ing on the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to bet­ter equip the health­care com­mu­nity with the nec­es­sary tools, in­for­ma­tion and guide­lines to en­sure a uni­fied and con­sis­tent ap­proach to breast den­sity di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment.

“We know that women are be­ing re­ferred to their GP, but that GPs — as a re­sult of Aus­tralia’s lack of con­sis­tency on breast den­sity — cur­rently lack the es­tab­lished guide­lines on breast den­sity needed to best sup­port them,” Kyrstal Barter, Pink Hope CEO, said.

“In many states in America, women dur­ing a mam­mo­gram, they have to, by law, be told they have dense breast tis­sue, there are sys­tems in place over­seas and they may not be ex­actly what we need here but at least they are do­ing some­thing proac­tive,” Ms Barter said.

“For one of the big­gest breast can­cer risk fac­tors, there is no sys­tem in place for per­son­alised man­age­ment, we are just a bit be­hind the eight­ball on that one,” she said.


COM­MON RISK FAC­TOR: Women can­not tell if they have dense breasts by the look or feel, it’s only the mam­mo­gram that can show the den­sity.


Con­nie John­son re­ceived an Or­der of Aus­tralia honour for her com­mit­ment to can­cer aware­ness.

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