A recent study at Washington University School of Medicine reveals that previous mammograms hold important information for identifying high-risk women and predicting the affected breast in breast cancer cases.
Breast density changes vary among women
Usually, middle-aged and older women commonly receive mammograms every one to two years as part of their regular screening. Doctors analyze mammograms by evaluating breast density, searching for cancer indicators, and comparing current results with previous scans. However, some changes may be difficult to detect visually.
Using a mathematical model, the study published in JAMA Oncology analyzed breast density changes in nearly 1,000 women over ten years. Researchers found that the rate of change in breast density differed significantly between women who developed cancer and those who did not. These findings have the potential to enhance current risk algorithms and help identify women who would benefit from additional screening.
Senior study author Graham A. Colditz emphasized the significance of early detection in combating breast cancer and suggested that incorporating breast density changes into risk models could improve risk estimation and guide preventive measures such as enhanced screening.
Medical professionals evaluate a woman’s risk of breast cancer by considering family history, genetic variants, age, and breast density. If a woman is deemed high-risk, she is advised to undergo supplementary screening, which typically involves annual mammograms and MRI scans. However, the exact cause behind the heightened susceptibility of women with denser breasts to breast cancer remains unclear.
Mammograms are important in determining breast density changes
However, Shu Jiang, PhD, an associate professor of surgery and research member at Siteman, recognized the untapped potential of repeated mammograms in capturing data on breast density changes over time. This information could potentially contribute to understanding the connection between breast density and the development of breast cancer.
In the future, analyzing a woman’s historical and current breast density information can offer valuable insights into her cancer risk, as suggested by Jiang. This data could potentially help identify the breast most susceptible to developing cancer. Since routine mammograms already collect density data for many women, the existing information only needs to be utilized more effectively.