In 2017, breast cancer became the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the US. After lung cancer, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in women. The breast consists of several components, including milk storage glands, milk ducts made of epithelial cells, adipose tissue, and stromal tissue. Mammographic density (MD) is based on the proportion of stromal, epithelial, and adipose tissue. Women with high MD have more stromal and epithelial cells and less fatty adipose tissue, and are more likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime compared to women with low MD. Because of this correlation, high MD is an independent risk factor for breast cancer. Further, mammographic screening is less effective in detecting suspicious lesions in dense breast tissue, which can lead to late-stage diagnosis. Molecular differences between dense and non-dense breast tissues explain the underlying biological reasons for why women with dense breasts are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. The goal of this review is to highlight the current molecular understanding of MD, its association with breast cancer risk, the demographics pertaining to MD, and the environmental factors that modulate MD. Finally, we will review the current legislation regarding the disclosure of MD on a traditional screening mammogram and the supplemental screening options available to women with dense breast tissue.
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