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What Is Dense Breast Tissue?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Dense breast tissue consists of connective tissue and glands. Connective tissue is what supports the breast and surrounds the breast glands, while glandular tissue is responsible for secreting milk. Both sexes can get breast cancer, but this kind of cancer is more likely to occur in men or women who have a lot of dense breast tissue. In addition, people who have dense breasts may experience breast tissue pain, which is called fibrocystic breast disease or fibrocystic change.

Connective tissue surrounds other important areas of the breast such as the ducts, blood vessels, and lobules. These tissues are made up of several materials, including fat and muscle. It is rare for cancer to develop in connective tissues, but it is always a possibility. As a person ages, his or her connective tissues become stiff and lose mass. The connective tissue stops being as supportive and large, leading to saggier, flatter breasts.

Glandular tissue is made up of milk-secreting tissue, which both men and women have. Men usually have far less of it than women, and the amount of glandular tissue a woman has varies. Breast glands are usually where breast cancer starts, gradually spreading to the rest of the body if not treated. The odds of developing breast cancer can sometimes be lessened if a woman breastfeeds. A woman who has had breast cancer might not be able to breastfeed, especially if she has undergone breast lump removal surgery.

Together, connective tissue and glandular tissue are called fibroglandular tissue or dense breast tissue. Having a lot of fibroglandular tissue means that breast cancer tumors are less likely to show up during mammograms. The dense breast tissue can hide tumors until a patient’s condition worsens and presents with other symptoms. In addition, some studies show that people who have dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer to begin with.

Fibrocystic breast disease is common in women who have a lot of glandular tissue. The condition causes a person to experience pain in the breast or armpit area. Benign lumps are a common complaint but usually shrink in size after a menstruation cycle or menopause. Though it is called a disease, fibrocystic breast disease is relatively harmless and is not known to increase a person’s odds of developing cancer. Some doctors prefer to call the disease fibrocystic change instead, which sounds less frightening to patients who have it.

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Discussion Comments
By anon941604 — On Mar 23, 2014

Does dense breast tissue mean you are more likely to get cancer?

By honeybees — On Mar 03, 2012

Fibrocystic breast disease seems to be pretty common for a lot of women. When I went in for my annual female exam, my doctor found a lump in one of my breasts.

Even when I went for a mammogram, this lump was hard to find because of where it was positioned and because my breast tissue was so dense.

I ended up having a biopsy, which thankfully was benign. When they did this biopsy, they put a marker in there so it would show up easier on future mammograms.

That is why it is so important to begin getting mammograms when you are young. It really helps when they have something to compare future mammograms with.

By andee — On Mar 02, 2012

I have had fibrocystic breast disease for as long as I can remember. The worst part of my PMS symptoms are my painful breasts.

I am pretty much used to it by now, but there doesn't seem to be anything that helps with this pain. My doctor told me I have very dense breasts, and this is a very common symptom with this.

Thankfully, it doesn't mean I have a greater chance of getting cancer, but it really gets annoying month after month.

By golf07 — On Mar 01, 2012

Well, now I know the reason for saggy, droopy breasts. I knew this was a common thing for women as they age, but really never understand the science behind it.

It seems like no matter what size a woman is, as she ages, her breasts start to sag. Unless you have some type of surgery done, this is something that will probably happen to every woman.

Is there anything besides surgery than can be done to minimize the effects of this changing connective tissue? It usually happens so gradually that you don't even realize it is happening, but sooner or later, gravity always wins.

By SarahSon — On Mar 01, 2012

I didn't realize I had dense breast tissue until I began having mammograms once I turned 40. I had a baseline mammogram done when I was 40 and everything looked OK.

The next year after my normal mammogram, they called me back in to take some extra pictures. I was really worried about this and afraid they saw something like cancer.

They said that I have very dense breasts, and this makes it harder for the mammogram to pick up any changes. There were a couple of areas they just wanted to have clearer pictures of.

More than once after my normal mammogram, I have had to go back for a second time. Now I no longer worry about it when I get that call, and almost expect it. It was sure pretty scary the first time though.

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