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.