Breast density: why all the fuss?

S. J. Vinnicombe (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    22 Citations (Scopus)
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    The term ‘breast density’ or mammographic density (MD) denotes those components of breast parenchyma visualised at mammography that are denser than adipose tissue. MD is 4 composed of a mixture of epithelial and stromal components, notably collagen, in variable proportions. MD is most commonly assessed in clinical practice with the time-honoured method of visual estimation of area-based percent density (PMD) on a mammogram, with categorisation into quartiles. The computerised semi-automated thresholding method, Cumulus, also yielding area-based percent density, is widely used for research purposes. However, the advent of fully automated volumetric methods developed as a consequence of the widespread use of digital mammography (DM) and yielding both absolute and percent dense volumes, has resulted in an explosion of interest in MD recently. Broadly, the importance of MD is two-fold: firstly, the presence of marked MD significantly reduces mammographic sensitivity for breast cancer, even with state-of-the-art DM. Recognition of this led to the formation of a powerful lobby group (‘Are You Dense’) in the US, as a consequence of which thirty-two states have legislated for mandatory disclosure of MD to women undergoing mammography. Secondly, it is now widely accepted that MD is in itself a risk factor for breast cancer, with a four to six-fold increased relative risk in women with PMD in the highest quintile compared to those with PMD in the lowest quintile. Consequently, major research efforts are underway to assess whether use of MD could provide a major step forward towards risk-adapted, personalised breast cancer prevention, imaging, and treatment.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)334-357
    Number of pages24
    JournalClinical Radiology
    Issue number4
    Early online date19 Dec 2017
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


    • Breast density
    • Mammographic density
    • Breast cancer
    • Breast cancer risk
    • Risk adaptedbreast screening
    • Risk models


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