Understanding Breast Density

Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Your breasts are considered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat. Density usually decreases with age. Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads your mammogram and will be included in your imaging report. In fact, under the NJ Breast Density Law, reports must include information about breast density. The legislation also requires insurers to cover follow-up evaluations, such as ultrasound or MRI, in women with dense breast tissue.

Why is breast density Important?

Dense breasts do make it more difficult for doctors to spot cancer on mammograms. Having dense breast tissue may increase your risk of getting breast cancer

If I have dense breasts, do I still need a mammogram?

Yes, a mammogram is the only medical imaging screening test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if you have dense breast tissue.

What should I do if I have dense breasts?

If you have dense breasts, talk to your doctor. Together, you can decide which, if any, additional screening exams are right for you.

For a referral to a RWJBarnabas Health primary care physician or breast specialist, call 888-724-7123.

What New Jersey Law Regarding Breast Density Means for Patients and Physicians

As of May 1, a new law went into effect for the State of New Jersey regarding breast density, providing for additional screening coverage for women with extremely dense breasts.

Breast density on mammography refers to the relative density of fibroglandular tissue vs. fat. The greater the amount of fibroglandular tissue (seen as white on mammograms) vs. fat (seen as gray), the greater the chance of a breast cancer hiding from sight. Also, since breast cancer develops primarily from glandular tissue and ducts, the greater the amount of fibroglandular tissue, the greater the substrate for developing cancer.

The American College of Radiology defines breast density on mammograms in four categories:

  • Almost entirely fatty: 10 percent of women
  • Scattered areas of fibroglandular tissue: 40 percent of women
  • Heterogeneously dense tissue: 40 percent of women
  • Extremely dense tissue: 10 percent of women

Those women with "extremely dense" breasts have two times the risk of developing breast cancer than the average female population. As per the new law, those women with this category of density are eligible for additional methods of screening for breast cancer, covered by insurance.

The additional methods can help to detect cancer that may not be seen on mammograms. The main two supplementary methods are whole-breast ultrasound and breast MRI. Ultrasound is preferable for women with an average risk for developing breast cancer, while for women at high risk, such as women with a family history of breast cancer, MRI is a better choice.

Please note that these supplementary tests are in conjunction with and don't replace mammography, which remains the main screening tool.

Additional online resources include:

Saint Barnabas Medical Center
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-5000
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Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 222-5200
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Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus
600 River Avenue
Lakewood, NJ 08701
(732) 363-1900
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Clara Maass Medical Center
1 Clara Maass Drive
Belleville, NJ 07109
(973) 450-2000
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Community Medical Center
99 Highway 37 West
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 557-8000
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Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
201 Lyons Avenue at Osborne Terrace
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7000
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Jersey City Medical Center
355 Grand Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302
(201) 915-2000
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RWJ University Hospital Hamilton
1 Hamilton Health Place
Hamilton, NJ 08690
(609) 586-7900
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RWJ University Hospital New Brunswick
1 Robert Wood Johnson Place
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-3000
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RWJ University Hospital Rahway
865 Stone Street
Rahway, NJ 07065
(732) 381-4200
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RWJ University Hospital Somerset
110 Rehill Avenue
Somerville, NJ 08876
(908) 685-2200
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The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Howell
4013 Route 9
Suite 2S
Howell, NJ 07731
(732) 923-7700
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The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Lakewood
600 River Ave
Lakewood, NJ 08701
(732) 923-7700
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The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Colts Neck
310 Route 34 South
Second Floor
Colts Neck, NJ 07722
(732) 923-7700
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The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 923-7700
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Center for Breast Health and Disease Management - Westfield
560 Springfield Ave
Westfield, NJ 07090
(973) 322-7020
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Center for Breast Health and Disease Management - Metuchen
173 Essex Ave
Metuchen, NJ 08840
(732) 494-0415
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Center for Breast Health and Disease Management - Livingston
200 South Orange Avenue
Suite 102
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-7020
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Community Medical Center Women's Imaging Center - Toms River
368 Lakehurst Rd
1st Floor
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 557-8146
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Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center
200 South Orange Avenue
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-7000
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