CHICAGO, Dec. 3, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Automated breast density
measurement is predictive of breast cancer risk in younger women, and that risk
may be related to the rate at which breast density changes in some women as they
age, according to research being presented today at the annual meeting of the
Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
Breast density, as determined by mammography, is already known to be a strong
and independent risk factor for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS)
considers women with extremely dense breasts to be at moderately increased risk
of cancer and recommends they talk with their doctors about adding magnetic
resonance imaging (MRI) screening to their yearly mammograms.
"Women under age 50 are most at risk from density-associated breast cancer, and
breast cancer in younger women is frequently of a more aggressive type, with
larger tumors and a higher risk of recurrence," said the study's senior author,
Nicholas Perry, M.B.B.S., FRCS, FRCR, director at the London Breast Institute in
For the new study, Dr. Perry and colleagues compared breast density and cancer
risk between younger and older women and analyzed how the risk relates to
changes in breast density over time. The study group included 282 breast cancer
cases and 317 healthy control participants who underwent full-field digital
mammography, with breast density measured separately using an automated
"In general, we refer to breast density as being determined by mammographic
appearance, and that has, by and large, in the past been done by visual
estimation by the radiologist--in other words, subjective and qualitative," Dr.
Perry said. "The automated system we used in the study is an algorithm that can
be automatically and easily applied to a digital mammogram, which allows an
objective and, therefore, quantitative density measurement that is
Breast cancer patients showed higher mammographic density than healthy
participants up to the age of 50. The healthy controls demonstrated a
significant decline in density with age following a linear pattern, while there
was considerably more variability in density regression among the breast cancer
"The results are interesting, because there would appear to be some form of
different biological density mechanism for normal breasts compared to breasts
with cancer, and this appears to be most obvious for younger women," Dr. Perry
said. "This is not likely to diminish the current ACS guidelines in any way, but
it might add a new facet regarding the possibility of an early mammogram to
establish an obvious risk factor, which may then lead to enhanced screening for
those women with the densest breasts."
For instance, some women might undergo a modified exposure exam at age 35 to
establish breast density levels, Dr. Perry noted. Those with denser breast
tissue could then be followed more closely with mammography and additional
imaging like MRI or ultrasound for earlier cancer detection and treatment.
"It has been estimated that about 40 percent of life years lost to breast cancer
are from women under 50 diagnosed outside of screening programs," Dr. Perry
said. "In my practice, which is largely composed of urban professional women, 40
percent of cancers year to year are diagnosed in women under 50, and 10 percent
in women younger than 40."
Co-authors are Katja Pinker-Domenig, M.D., Kefah Mokbel, M.B.B.S., FRCS, Sue E.
Milner, B.Sc., and Stephen W. Duffy, M.Sc.
AT A GLANCE
-- The rate at which breast density changes in some women as they age may
affect their breast cancer risk.
-- Researchers compared breast density and cancer risk between younger and
older women and analyzed how the risk relates to changes in breast
density over time.
-- Breast density, as determined by mammography, is known to be a strong
and independent risk factor for breast cancer.
Note: Copies of RSNA 2013 news releases and electronic images will be available
online at RSNA.org/press13 beginning Monday, Dec. 2.
RSNA is an association of more than 53,000 radiologists, radiation oncologists,
medical physicists and related scientists, promoting excellence in patient care
and health care delivery through education, research and technologic innovation.
The Society is based in Oak Brook, Ill. (RSNA.org)
Editor's note: The data in these releases may differ from those in the published
abstract and those actually presented at the meeting, as researchers continue to
update their data right up until the meeting. To ensure you are using the most
up-to-date information, please call the RSNA Newsroom at 1-312-949-3233.
For patient-friendly information on mammography, visit RadiologyInfo.org.
SOURCE Radiological Society of North America (RSNA)