190423-health-densebreasts

Dr. Lauren Thompson of Portsmouth Regional Hospital.

PORTSMOUTH — The medical director of Portsmouth Regional Hospital’s Breast Center says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken a positive step by proposing amendments to key regulations that could help improve the quality of mammography services for millions of American women.

Under the proposed new guidelines for breast cancer screenings, physicians would be required to provide women with dense breasts more information about their increased risk of breast cancer and the potential for imprecise mammogram results.

Dense breasts have a higher proportion of fibroglandular tissue compared to fatty tissue. Glandular tissue can obscure signs of cancer, FDA officials said in a statement.

“It’s like trying to find a snowball in a snowstorm,” Dr. Lauren Thompson of Portsmouth Regional Hospital said.

Thompson said patients often ask her what the term “dense breasts” means.

Thompson said size of the breasts does not matter when it comes to density. FDA officials estimate more than half of U.S. women over the age of 40 have dense breasts.

“I think this proposal the FDA has put out would answer a lot of those questions,” Thompson said. “Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of cancer over the course of their lifetimes and it’s harder to detect.”

Thompson said women with dense breasts may require more screenings or choose an MRI or ultrasound in addition to mammograms. She is hopeful insurance companies will get on board if the proposed amendments are approved so patients can pay for these procedures.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 12.4 percent of women born in the United States today will develop breast cancer at some time during their lives. In 2018, more than 260,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and close to 41,000 women died of the disease.