Is Breast Density an Overrated Cancer Risk Factor

Is Breast Density an Overrated Cancer Risk Factor? Croatian study questions the link, but U.S. experts disagree with finding
WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Breast density is considered by many an independent risk factor for breast cancer. But new research from Croatia suggests it might not be that critical after all.

Researchers evaluated thousands of mammogram reports in Croatia and found no substantial difference in breast density between 230 women diagnosed with breast cancer and those who weren't.

Just a small number of the women with breast cancer had very dense breast tissue, the researchers found.

"We cannot conclude from our study that breast density is not a risk factor, but it might not be a strong factor," said study researcher Dr. Natasa Katavic of Health Center Osijek in Croatia. "We have an impression that breast density is presented to the public as the most important risk factor, which our study does not support."

However, two U.S. experts took exception to the study's conclusions.

"The findings do not apply to U.S. women," said Dr. Debra Monticciolo, chair of the American College of Radiology Commission on Breast Imaging. She said the study researchers grouped women into four categories of breast density, but "the percent of women in each category is markedly different from what we see in the U.S., so it makes it hard to apply to women in the U.S."

Dr. Laura Kruper added that the number of screenings evaluated for the study -- about 53,000 over five years -- was relatively low.

It would have been better to follow the women for several years to be sure they did not develop cancer later, said Kruper. She is director of the Cooper Finkel Women's Health Center and co-director of the breast cancer program at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

Because of the relatively low numbers and the study's design, she added, "I don't think you can draw any conclusion."

Women with dense breasts have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer compared to those with less dense breasts, the American Cancer Society says, although it's not clear why. Also, when breasts are very dense, it makes it difficult to detect cancers in the breast tissue.

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