Tabitha Watkins has been doing breast self-exams for many years. They’ve become part of her monthly routine like paying a credit card bill or washing the car. However, she never thought that one day, she might find something unusual during one of these self-exams.
Tabitha has dense breast tissue, which makes it harder to detect breast cancer on mammograms. “Because I have dense breasts, I’m very consistent in doing these self-exams,” Tabitha shared.
While doing a breast self-exam, Tabitha found a lump in her breast. When she went back to the doctor for a mammogram, they found aggressive and invasive breast cancer in her right breast. Fortunately, she overcame the fight against cancer and is now committed to making sure her daughters and entire family understand the risk factors, such as dense breast tissue and the importance of early detection.
Approximately 40% of women over 40 have dense breasts and a study from Oxford University found that black women have denser breast tissue than white women. Breast density is a measurement of the amount fatty tissue versus the amount of fibrous tissue in the breast. The more connective tissue there is, the denser the breast tissue is. Both cancer and dense breast tissue appear white on mammograms, so trying to find and diagnose tumors with mammography can be like looking for a snowball in a snowstorm.
Many clinicians use Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) in addition to mammography, as it has shown a 55% relative increase of invasive cancer detection when used alongside a mammogram.
“Early detection starts with yourself,” Tabitha said. Her story reminds us all why it’s important to know – are you dense?
 Brem RF, Tabár L, et.al., Radiology. 2015, Mar; 274(3): 663-73.