The New York Times reports on the issues associated with dense breasts. Many women with dense breasts have to get multiple opinions on their scans due to physicians having difficulty reading the scans.
Brest cancer is one of the most common cancers in American women today; to make matters worse 40% of women are said to have dense breast tissue, which makes it harder to detect the cancer. Then rather than having an in person conversation, the women receive letters in the mail about the dense tissue findings.
A new study shows that many women have trouble understanding the diagnosis sent to them in the mail. Nancy R. Kressin, one of the study’s authors who is a professor at Boston University School of Medicine and a senior researcher at the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, said, “Twenty percent of the population only reads at an eighth-grade level, and many more don’t read at a much higher level than that.”
She said that when she interviewed many women on what they thought after reading the letter, they said they were afraid that the letter meant that they have cancer.
What does dense breast tissue exactly mean?
Experts say that dense breast tissue means that a woman’s breasts have more connective and fibrous tissue than normal.
What are the consequences of having dense breasts?
This type of tissue both increases the threat of breast cancer and makes it less likely that tumors will be seen on a mammogram. However it is also important that women with dense breasts are aware that having dense breasts does not necessarily mean that the woman will have or does have cancer.
The study was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The letters sent out to patients about their dense breast tissue is often full of confusing medical jargon. The advocates who initiated the idea of sending out the letter said that it was meant to spark conversation between the patient and the doctor but that follow up often does not happen.
Dr. Cappello, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 after receiving normal mammogram results, commented on the study. She said, “The notifications (letters) were never intended to replace conversations, but to enhance them.” She received mammograms every year for many years and was never told she had dense breasts until after she was diagnosed with cancer. Cappello called the new study shortsighted and basically said that the letters are still beneficial, because they are better than not getting any notification at all.