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Breast density measurement 'significantly improves' cancer risk prediction: study

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | December 23, 2014
Women's Health
Dr. Jennifer Harvey
Breast density measurements better predict a patient's breast cancer risk, according to a new University of Virginia Cancer Center study. Incorporating those measurements into breast cancer risk models can help determine how often a patient should undergo a mammogram.

"Breast density is a moderate risk factor for breast cancer," Dr. Jennifer Harvey, professor of radiology at the university, wrote to DOTmed News. "Women with very dense breasts are four times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer."

The researchers evaluated 3,400 women who underwent digital mammograms at the university from 2003 to 2013, who were both diagnosed and undiagnosed with breast cancer. They then calculated the women's breast density with an automated software program.

They found that adding breast density measurements "significantly improves" the accuracy of the breast cancer risk model, which is essential for screening to become more personalized.

The way that most radiologists measure breast density is by visually assigning it to four of ACR's BI-RADS categories instead of using the automated software. However, studies that included the visual measurement did not show an improvement in model performance.

Harvey explained that the current breast cancer risk models are good at predicting how many women will have breast cancer in a given population but they are not effective at predicting which of those women have the highest risk. She believes that because of that, including breast density in the model will become a standard in the near future.

“Volumetric Breast Density Improves Breast Cancer Risk Prediction” was presented at the 2014 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium and done in collaboration with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, the NorthShore University, and the HealthSystem Research Institute.

The results of this study are consistent with other studies published in Breast Cancer Research, Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Going forward, Harvey and her fellow researchers will be conducting another study investigating what type of cancers women with dense breasts are at the highest risk for. "Women who are at risk for low grade disease can be managed differently than women at greatest risk for higher grade disease," she wrote.

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