Dense breasts: a review of reporting legislation and available supplemental screening options

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2014 Aug;203(2):449-56. doi: 10.2214/AJR.13.11969.


Objective: The objectives of this article are to discuss the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) and what it means for patients, define breast density and explain how it is measured, review the new state-based legislation regarding the reporting of dense breast tissue directly to patients and the possibility of an adjunct screening examination, describe possible supplemental screening options and the advantages and disadvantages of each, and outline the current shortcomings and unanswered questions regarding new legislation.

Conclusion: Breast density is now established as an independent risk factor for developing breast cancer irrespective of other known risk factors. Women with breast density in the upper quartile have an associated four to five times greater risk of developing breast cancer relative to women with breast density in the lower quartile. Many states have enacted or proposed legislation requiring mammographers to report to patients directly if they have dense breast tissue and recommend discussing the possibility of a supplemental screening examination with their physicians. However, there is currently no consensus as to whether a supplemental screening examination should be pursued or which modality to use. Possible supplemental screening modalities include ultrasound, MRI, digital breast tomosynthesis, and molecular breast imaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved an automated breast ultrasound system for screening whole-breast ultrasound in patients with dense breasts. However, many questions are still unanswered including the impact on morbidity and mortality, cost-effectiveness, and insurance coverage.

Keywords: breast cancer; breast density; legislation; screening; ultrasound.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast / anatomy & histology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards
  • Mammography / standards*
  • Mass Screening / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / standards
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / standards
  • Ultrasonography, Mammary / standards