MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- Once a woman turns 40, the American Cancer Society and most recognized medical authorities recommend she start getting yearly mammograms . But mammograms aren't uniformly sensitive in all women. Between 40 and 50 percent of women have dense breasts—fibrous tissue as opposed to mostly fatty tissue—and that density can obscure potential problems, says Dr. Bonnie Litvack, MD, FACR, Director of Women’s Imaging at Northern Westchester Hospital.
A new law aimed at improving breast cancer detection requires mammography providers to inform patients if dense breast tissue was found during their exams. Most women probably don’t realize breast density is an issue, says Dr. Litvack. “Early detection can save lives and this new law will give women who may be at a higher risk for breast cancer the information they need,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who signed the legislation last July. It became law in January.
“The main thing,” says Dr. Litvack, “is not to panic if you get this letter. Dense breasts are normal by definition,” she says. “Dense breasts can make mammograms less sensitive, and dense breast tissue may also contribute to cancer risk. You and your doctor will want to thoroughly vet your risk factors.”
The Breast Institute at NWH offers comprehensive Risk Analysis and Genetic Counseling to help you assess your risk for breast cancer.
Genetic counseling and genetic testing can help individuals understand their hereditary/familial cancer risks which can assist in determining appropriate surveillance measures and possible risk reducing strategies that may aid in early detection and/or decrease the lifetime risk of developing cancer.
It’s important to note that genetic risk analysis is only one component of a comprehensive risk analysis. However, the staff at Northern Westchester Hospital realizes that the benefits of genetic counseling extend far beyond just the patient to their family members who might also be at risk. The Genetic Counselor can discuss the risks, benefits and limitations of genetic testing, and the potential impact of testing for other family members. There is no obligation to have genetic testing when having a genetic counseling consultation.
At Northern Westchester Hospital, the Counselor offers emotional support and provides patients with clear written details of their genetic counseling sessions.
“Regardless of your breast density, make sure you get your yearly mammogram and discuss all of your personal risk factors for breast cancer with your physician,” recommends Dr. Litvack.