(01/08/13) - There may soon be a way to improve breast cancer screening - especially for women who have dense breast tissue. Just knowing she has the issue, could change the way a woman goes about getting screened.
For Carolyn Achenbach, gardening was a haven when she got devastating news. "I found out that I had breast cancer, it was pretty scary."
It took nine months - a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy wiped it out, but then she developed a second cancer.
Carolyn is among the 10 percent of American women with dense breast tissue. A recent study by The National Cancer Institute shows those with dense breasts were no more likely to die than patients whose tissue wasn't as dense. But dense tissue is associated with a four to six-fold increase in a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. That is partly because tumors in dense tissue can be harder to spot with a mammogram.
"Mammography is the most effective tool that we have for detecting breast cancer. The way we measure breast density is not very good," says Dr. Jennifer Harvey, of the University of Virginia.
Since there is currently no easy way to measure breast density, Harvey is developing something to help women better understand their cancer risk.
"Our goal in this study is that we are going to include breast density into a risk model. It will be here is your result and here is you risk of breast cancer," Harvey says.
The doctor believes the personalized model could help women determine how often they should have mammograms, instead of relying on age-based recommendations.
The first phase of Dr. Harvey's study is being funded by a five and a half million dollar government grant. It will continue to be developed over the next three years. If successful, this model could be available for widespread use within six years.
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