Feel Yourself: Dense Breasts Increase Chance Of Cancer

Dense breasts increases the likelihood of breast cancer by a staggering four to five times, but screeners are under no obligation to tell patients.

Jean Shephard, 65, had 10 mammograms over the space of 20 years -- all coming back negative.

But in October 2017, just five months after her last screening, Jean found a lump in her breast while watching television.

Within weeks, Jean was informed she had a three centimetre tumour, and was told by clinicians it did not show on mammograms because of her dense breast tissue.

"We were never been told of her dense breasts, nor had it ever been recorded," Michael Shephard, Jean's husband, told ten daily.*

The Shephards are campaigning to change physician policy to not tell women if they have dense breasts, lobbying the Department of Health and the Human Rights Commission.

"The policy means physicians don't tell women they have dense breasts in case it frightens them, and density is difficult to measure," Michael said.

Australian women are becoming increasingly infuriated with the unfair system where breast density during screening examinations doesn't have to be disclosed.

Forty percent of women have dense breasts, yet Western Australia is the only state in the country which routinely tells women their breast density.

The term 'dense breasts' refers to the appearance of breast tissue on a mammogram -- denser breast tissues appears white.

Mammography breast scan X-ray image. Image: Getty Images

This is concerning during screening as cancer lumps also appear white on mammograms, meaning they can be easily missed.

Seventy percent of Australian women believe it's unfair that WA woman are given this information more freely than other states, a nationwide survey by research company Pure Profile.

Australia has fallen behind breast cancer prevention, with 72 percent of U.S. states adopting mandatory notification requirements, as has Canada.

Ultrasounds and 3D mammography are better options for screening for women with dense breasts. Image: Getty Images

Pink Hope, an organisation dedicated to cancer prevention, is lobbying for a fairer system of breast screening across the country according to founder Krystal Barter.

"We have decades of knowledge, and the rest of Australia needs to be more progressive in giving more information to women," Barter told ten daily.

"There needs to be more conversation around this, and we are lobbying federally. More politicians needs to be aware, and not tick the proverbial 'women's box'."

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Physicians worry that by telling women they have dense breasts and false positives are found, unneeded invasive action will cause unnecessary stress.

Forty per cent of women have dense breasts. Image: Getty Images

"While these are all undesirable outcomes, the other is life-threatening by not knowing they have cancer," Michael said.

Activists like Pink Hope, Jean and Michael, want women to be given the choice of knowing their breast density.

"It's about empowering women, it's their breasts and their choice," Barter said.

"It's fairness for all Australian women."

If told they have dense breasts, other options for screening tests besides 2D mammograms are available. Ultrasounds and 3D imaging can give a more accurate assessment of breast tissue and make it easier to spot cancerous tissue.

Feature Image: Getty Images

*Jean's husband spoke on her behalf as the situation was 'too raw' for her to talk about.