We strongly feel that it is our job to keep you informed about the latest breast cancer research. That’s why we provide you with information about our own studies, publish reports from our Intraductal Symposium, and produce webinars about studies done through the Army of Women.

Now, we have an opportunity to share findings reported at a recent conference on breast density. This is a growing area of research, as the data shows that women whose mammograms are dense have a higher risk of getting breast cancer while women whose mammograms show mostly fatty tissue have a lower risk. It’s also possible that mammographic density may indicate that there is a type of tissue around the milk ducts that is more stimulating to breast cancers.

The 5th International Workshop on Breast Densitometry and Breast Cancer Risk Assessment was held in San Francisco in June 2011. The following conference summary was provided by John Shepherd, PhD, an associate professor of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

A high volume of dense breast tissue has been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of breast cancer risk in women, although the specific reason(s) for this is yet unknown. Currently there are no calibrated means to measure breast density in a clinical setting. In addition, there are no validated risk models that include this important risk factor. The result is that current risk models are not very specific in identifying the women at high cancer risk that benefit the most from treatment. The objectives of the two-day workshop were: 1) to inform participants on the advances in quantifying breast density and non-density image features and how it relates to breast cancer risk and cancer subtypes; 2) to examine the biology of breast density, how it relates to breast cancer risk and how this knowledge may lead to better measurement of breast density; and 3) to explore methodologies of communicating breast cancer risk model that incorporate breast density as a risk factor in the model.

The workshop included 21 invited speakers as well as an opening “Statement of Need” from an outspoken advocate. The sessions were divided into five major topics: Measures of Breast Density: Strength & Controversies; Non-Density Risk Measures from Imaging; Breast Density and Biology; Genetics and Other Markers of Risk; Density, Risk, and Personalized Mammography. In addition, there were 38 abstracts accepted and presented in the two poster sessions.

A major barrier to the clinical use of breast cancer risk modeling has been the dissemination of new findings as they have become available. Part of the problem is that essential contributions come from diverse fields of study including biology, epidemiology, radiology, and biostatistics. This workshop overcomes this barrier by bringing together essentially all researchers in the field.

Researchers reported that they had found that the absolute volume of dense breast tissue was a stronger biomarker than the ratio of the projected dense area to total breast area in mammograms. These findings need confirmation. In addition, there may be an important role for the absolute quantity of fat in the breast as well. Lastly, breast cancers were reported to be found more often in the densest breast tissue. Three speakers discussed the potentially cancer promoting effects of “stiffness” or tension of dense stromal tissue. Lastly, tamoxifen chemoprophylaxis for post-menopausal women under age 55 was found to be a cost-effective health policy to reduce breast cancer incidence, improve life expectancy, and minimize the threat of adverse events associated with this potent treatment. Closing discussion included the role of researchers in addressing the increasing demand by advocate groups to know their breast density measures. A follow-up workshop will held in June 2013.

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3 Responses to 5th International Workshop on Breast Cancer Risk Assessment

  1. Mary says:

    This is an extremely important field of study and one that affects women past menopause, as well. At the age of 60 an aggressive, 2.5 cm., grade 2-3, Her2+ tumor was found by me despite regular mammograms for many years. There it was hiding in “dense” tissue. It did not show up on mammogram but did on ultrasound. I am pleased that this issue is being addressed and all women should ask about the mammographic findings of tissue density, on their films. If warranted, they should insist on other types of studies, such as ultrasound, to give them the best screening, and earliest detection, possible.

  2. Linda says:

    FYI, I have very dense breast, mammos are a solid white mass, DX normal for me! What the heck kind of DX is that? When they can’t see anything how the heck are they going to find something wrong? Not a single provider, doctor, gyno, or radiologist has ever recommended further investigation, not an ultrasound, mri, nothing. If dense breast were tested differently maybe the cancer would be found sooner than later! We need to find doctors that will listen to us because we know what’s going on in our own bodies. Maybe if we started suing all of them for not finding breast cancer soon enough, I’ll bet they’d start testing differently!

  3. Amy says:

    First, you MUST ask your doctor or radiologist of you have dense breast tissue (it’s noted on the mammography report sent to your referring physician). If you do have high breast density, you MUST be assertive and insist on additional screening (ie.: ultrasound or MRI). I was never informed of my extremely dense breast tissue and received “negative” mammogram reports for years. Turns out there were 3 invasive tumors in my breast that had metastasized to the lymph system! This scenario can be avoided if women are informed of their breast density and can initiate a conversation with their physician about supplemental screening – it’s a matter of life!

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