Harvard Women's Health Watch

Dense-breast notification letters are confusing, study shows

Research we're watching

dense-breast notificationDense breasts can mask cancer on a mammogram and are an independent cancer risk factor. However, there is no evidence to indicate that women who have dense breasts should have additional tests.

In about half of U.S. states, women who have dense breasts receive a notification letter to that effect in addition to the results of their screening mammograms. Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine analyzed the letters sent to women in 23 states and rated the clarity of all the letters as "poor." They also found a wide variation in the information the letters contained. While all the letters mentioned that dense breasts may mask cancer, only 74% noted the association with increased cancer risk, and 65% suggested supplemental screening as an option. The study appeared April 26, 2016, in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

If you receive a dense-breast notification with your next mammography report, don't try to decode it. Instead, get in touch with your doctor so the two of you can decide what to do.

Image: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Thinkstock