Medline: 9637139

The fulltext Journal of the National Cancer Institute 90(12): 906-910, 1998. is available online for subscribers.

Variation in mammographic breast density by time in menstrual cycle among women aged 40-49 years.

White E, Velentgas P, Mandelson MT, et al.


Mammography is less effective for women aged 40-49 years than for older women, which has led to a call for research to improve the performance of screening mammography for younger women. One factor that may influence the performance of mammography is breast density. Younger women have greater mammographic breast density on average, and increased breast density increases the likelihood of false-negative and false-positive mammograms. We investigated whether breast density varies according to time in a woman's menstrual cycle.

Premenopausal women aged 40-49 years who were not on exogenous hormones and who had a screening mammogram at a large health maintenance organization during 1996 were studied (n = 2591). Time in the menstrual cycle was based on the woman's self-reported last menstrual bleeding and usual cycle length.

A smaller proportion of women had "extremely dense" breasts during the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle (24% for week 1 and 23% for week 2) than during the luteal phase (28% for both weeks 3 and 4) (two-sided P = .04 for the difference in breast density between the phases, adjusted for body mass index). The relationship was stronger for women whose body mass index was less than or equal to the median (two-sided P<.01), the group who have the greatest breast density.

IMPLICATIONS: These findings are consistent with previous evidence suggesting that scheduling a woman's mammogram during the follicular phase (first and second week) of her menstrual cycle instead of during the luteal phase (third and fourth week) may improve the accuracy of mammography for premenopausal women in their forties. Breast tissue is less radiographically dense in the follicular phase than in the luteal phase.

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Dr. G. Quade