A Look at Breast Cancer Screenings

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It seems like you can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about a new breast cancer screening or new recommendations for mammography. With all the conflicting reports it can be difficult to know what screening option is the best for you. As always, you should talk to your physician about your personal risk factors and decide what screening is right for you. Here is a basic review of the different types of screenings and recommendations.

Clinical Breast Exam (CBE): A CBE is done by a health care provider who checks your breasts and underarm areas for any lumps or changes. It should be part of your regular medical checkup. If you are 40 or older, have your mammogram close to the time of your CBE. For women ages 20-39, have a CBE at least every three years. For women 40 and older, CBE combined with mammography may find more breast cancers than mammography alone. When used together, fewer breast cancers are missed.

Mammography: A mammogram is an X-ray image of the breast. Mammography is the tool that uses X-rays to create mammograms. It is used to find early signs of breast cancer. It is the best screening tool used today to find breast cancer. It can find breast cancer early when it is small and the chance of survival is highest. Starting at age 40, women should get a screening mammogram every year. Women under 40 with a family history of breast cancer or other concerns should discuss with their doctor what screening tests are right for them.

MRI: A breast MRI uses magnetic fields to create an image of the breast. It can sometimes find cancers in dense breasts that are not seen on mammograms. Breast MRI is often used with mammography for screening some women at a high risk of breast cancer. However, it can be costly and often finds something that looks abnormal, but turns out to be benign (false positive).

Thermography: Thermography uses infrared light to measure temperature differences on the surface of the breast. Although breast cancer can cause abnormal heat patterns, many benign conditions also cause abnormal heat patterns. Thermography cannot distinguish between benign and cancerous patterns. Since thermography measures heat at the surface of the breast, it is not good at finding cancers deeper within the breast tissue. Neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the American College of Radiology view thermography as a useful breast screening or imaging tool. In 2011, the FDA issued an alert warning the public about misleading claims by thermography practitioners and manufacturers on the screening benefits of the tool.

Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses sound waves to make images of the breast. It is often used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a mammogram, breast MRI or clinical breast exam. When used on the breast, ultrasound can tell the difference between types of lumps, such as liquid-filled cysts and a solid mass. Doctors use this to find out the size, shape, texture and density of a breast lump.

Written by Jodi Weak

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The Komen Idaho Affiliate’s achievements are seen throughout the service area. The Affiliate has played a critical role in supporting the 28 county service area grantees with funding for breast health education, screening and diagnostics, and patient assistance programs. If you or someone you know needs a mammogram, we can help, call the Komen Idaho office at 208.384.0013 or 877.665.9088

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