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WASHINGTON - Diane Balma felt vindicated when she heard the news: Canadian researchers had discovered that women with dense breasts, making their mammograms difficult to read, had a far higher risk of cancer.
They found that women with the densest breasts had four to six times the risk of breast cancer compared with women with the fattiest, and easiest-to-image, breasts.
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine Dr Norman Boyd, of the Ontario Cancer Institute, said breast density could be a risk factor for breast cancer.
The other risk factors include having a close relative with breast cancer, carrying one of the known BRCA breast cancer genes and never having borne a child.
Balma had none of the other risk factors, but was worried when she felt a lump in her breast 11 years ago at age 30.
She immediately went for a mammogram, something that is not a routine recommendation for women under 40, but Balma was worried.
"It did not show on the mammogram," said Balma.
She had dense breasts, which show up on an X-ray like a white mass of tissue. Tumours in fatty breasts usually show up more clearly.
Her radiologist was not especially worried but ordered an ultrasound.
"I was relatively small-breasted," she recalls. "Even so, he was barely able to find it on the ultrasound. When he did see it, his words to me were, 'You know, you are too young. I wouldn't worry about this. I am sure it is not cancer'." But it was.
"I decided to have it removed and it was a decision that saved my life," Balma said. She eventually had both breasts removed and endured six rounds of chemotherapy. She has been cancer-free for 11 years. - Reuters