Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of breast cancer risk. Increasing evidence suggests that breast density is established when the breasts form, which is largely determined by genes. Environmental factors then act to, on average, decrease breast density as a woman ages.

Breast density is modifiable via medical intervention and reducing density has been shown to reduce breast cancer risk. Measuring breast density in younger women could allow us to monitor changes in breast tissue composition prior to the recommended mammographic screening at age 50 and inform primary prevention, not just early detection strategies. Breast density measures could be used to identify and target younger women who could benefit from earlier screening and potential preventive interventions. This project not only proposes to help improve cancer outcomes but hopefully, prevent the disease in the first place.

We have piloted and are studying the use of a novel method of measuring breast density called Transillumination Breast Spectroscopy (TiBS). TiBS uses visible and near infrared light to measure spectral differences in breast tissue composition and is safe, quick and painless. We aim to develop a TiBS breast density score that could be standardized (by age) and used to understand the distribution of breast density in younger Australian women, and to identify lifestyle factors associated with change in TiBS breast density within younger women.

Further validation of TiBS as a way of measuring breast density could facilitate translation of this method into a clinical tool. If successful, this new clinical tool could be used as part of a routine health check for younger women (aged 18-40) to identify and target those at increased risk of breast cancer.


Funding has been provided by Cancer Australia and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.