Clinical and epidemiological issues in mammographic density

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2011 Dec 6;9(1):33-40. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2011.173.


High mammographic density is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and of all known breast cancer risk factors has the greatest attributable fraction. Mammographic density is estimated to account for 16% of all breast cancers, but can be altered by endogenous and exogenous hormonal factors, and generally declines with age. Confounding factors such as age, parity, menopausal status and BMI make the interpretation of mammographic density particularly challenging. Furthermore, none of the established means of measuring mammographic density are entirely satisfactory because they are time consuming or subjective. It is hoped that by adding information regarding mammographic density to existing models of breast cancer risk assessment, the accuracy of individual risk assessments can be improved. Although mammographic density has clearly been shown to be a powerful factor for predicting the risk of developing breast cancer, its potential role in assessing hormonal preventive regimens and helping to tailor screening algorithms cannot be fully realized until we have more-precise, simple and reproducible density measures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / instrumentation
  • Mammography / methods*
  • Menopause
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology