What Women Need to Know About Breast Density


For the 40 percent of women with dense breast tissue, a mammogram alone may not be enough

Jodi Morrow found the lump when she was taking a shower. “It was a couple of months after I had my annual mammogram,” she recalls. “They think it wasn’t picked up by the mammogram because I have very dense breasts.”

Morrow is fortunate. Her cancer was caught early, and today she has been a breast cancer survivor for seven years. But her story is not unusual. As many as four out of 10 women have breast tissue that is considered dense. For those women, mammograms alone may not be enough to find breast cancer.

“Dense tissue appears white on mammograms,” explains Kimberly Ivester, Nassif Community Cancer Center administrative director. “Lumps, whether they are benign or cancerous, also appear white. That makes it harder to identify abnormalities with a mammogram alone.”

UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s Breast and Bone Health offers 3-D mammography—the most advanced form of mammography for routine exams—at three locations. In addition to the PCI Medical Pavilion and St. Luke’s Marion Campus, 3-D mammography is now available at UnityPoint Clinic – Westdale at 4325 Williams Blvd. in Cedar Rapids.

“By offering the most advanced breast screening option at our Westdale Campus, we make it convenient for women to get their mammogram on the same day, at the same location where they go for their annual wellness checks,” says Ivester.

And for women with dense breasts, St. Luke’s has added automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) at their PCI Medical Pavilion location. This breast cancer screening technology uses light compression with sound waves to create 3-D images that allow the radiologist to detect changes, even with dense breast tissue.

“We’re excited to be one of the first in the area to offer this new technology,” says Ivester. “We encourage a woman who has dense breasts to talk to her provider about the value of additional screening. Together they can decide whether it’s right for her based on her mammogram results, individual risk factors and physical examination.” In addition to ABUS, other screening options available at St. Luke’s include molecular breast imaging (MBI) and breast MRI.

Under a new Iowa state law that went into effect January 1, 2018, women will be notified if they have dense breast tissue when they receive their mammogram results. The notification includes a recommendation to talk to their provider about additional screening options.

Ivester adds, “A woman with dense breasts should still get a mammogram. Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if you have dense breast tissue. With ABUS, we have a new option for those women who need additional screening.”

To schedule your annual mammogram, contact St. Luke’s Breast and Bone Health at (319) 369-7216.

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