WebMD News Brief

Women Underestimate Link Between Breast Density and Cancer Risk

photo of woman getting a mammogram

Jan. 24, 2023 -- Dense breast tissue is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer – up to four times higher -- but in a recent study most women didn’t see it as a significant risk compared with other factors.

More than 1,850 women aged 40 to 76 were asked about the risk of breast density compared to five other factors: having a first-degree relative with the disease; being overweight; drinking; not having children; and having an earlier breast biopsy.

“Despite breast density being associated with a 1.2 to 4 times higher risk of breast cancer, few women perceived breast density to be a strong personal risk factor,” says the study, published in the JAMA Network Open.

Women perceived family history – which can double the risk -- as being more of a risk factor. And the respondents largely saw no way to reduce their risk, although exercise and low alcohol use do lower risk, CNN reported.

The women in the study had no history of breast cancer and were aware of breast density, which refers to a breast composed of glandular and fibrous tissue more than fatty tissue. Density changes over a lifetime and is usually higher when women are younger, have a lower body weight, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or on hormone replacement therapy.

“What we’ve learned from this study is that we have to do a better job of educating not only the general public of women, but the general public of health care providers who are doing the primary care, who are ordering those screening mammograms,” said Ruth Oratz, MD, a breast oncologist at NYU Langone Health who was not involved in the study.

Most women are urged to get a mammogram every year or two between 50 and 74. Additional screenings might benefit women with higher breast density, the study’s authors wrote.

Show Sources

JAMA Network Open: “Perceptions of Breast Cancer Risks Among Women Receiving Mammograph Screening”


CNN: “Many women underestimate breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer, study shows”

© 2023 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info