Low Dose Radiation

"Since the 1970s, mammograms have made a huge impact on detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable - it remains the best method for early detection today," says Mary Lechner, MD, medical director at Park Nicollet Jane Brattain Breast Center.

During a mammogram, low dose radiation (X-ray) is passed through a compressed breast, source ifreebudget.com/lipo-flavonoid-plus-reviews.html. The compression is necessary to provide an accurate picture. Images produced by mammograms can detect a tumor as early as two years before a doctor or patient can feel a lump.

"I tell women that yearly mammograms can reassure them that their breasts are normal - and if there is an abnormality, mammograms can detect it early, when there are more treatment options if it proves to be cancer, and survival rates are higher," Dr. Lechner says.

Digital mammograms new advantages

"We've been offering digital mammography at Jane Brattain Breast Center since 2000," she continues. "Compared to the older analog methods, digital mammograms offer many advantages for detecting cancer, especially in women younger than age 50, and those who are perimenopausal (before or during menopause) or have dense breasts. Some women may want to seek out digital mammography specifically."

Although analog and digital mammography are performed the same way, digital mammograms can be read and stored on computers. Analog images are produced and stored on films. Digital mammograms also provide better visibility of the entire breast. Both methods now allow for computer-aided detection, where the computer does a second read to identify areas of abnormality that may have been missed by a radiologist.

Recommended screening factors

Most women are advised to receive yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. If they have an increased risk for developing breast cancer, doctors may recommend yearly mammograms at a younger age. According to the American Cancer Society, these factors increase a woman's risk for developing breast cancer:

being older than age 60
having cancer in one breast (which increases their risk for cancer in the other breast)
having a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, especially in a parent, sibling or child
having certain gene mutations, such as BRAC1 or BRAC2 genes, (doctors may encourage some women to see a genetic counselor)
never having children or being older than 35 when they had their first child
having their first period before age 12 or going through menopause after age 55
being Caucasian
having hormone therapy, such as estrogen and progestin, to treat menopause symptoms
having dense breast tissue
having radiation therapy to the chest before age 30
being overweight or sedentary
drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day

Ultrasound

"If we find something abnormal on a mammogram, the usual next step is to evaluate it with ultrasound. An ultrasound is not so much a screening test as it is a diagnostic tool that provides more information," Dr. Lechner explains.

For example, if a mammogram detects a lump, ultrasound will determine whether the lump is a solid mass, which indicates cancer, or a fluid-filled cyst, which is benign. If the mass is a cyst, doctors may simply let it be or remove it. If the mass is solid, doctors are likely to perform a biopsy.

Biopsy

Biopsies examine affected tissue under a microscope to determine whether the cells are cancerous. "These procedures are common and easy to perform - usually right in a doctor's office," Dr. Lechner says. Patients are given a local anesthetic and a special needle removes some of the questionable tissue. Imaging, such as an ultrasound, can help guide doctors to the mass. The procedure takes just a few minutes and is easily tolerated by patients.

Other diagnosing tools

In addition to mammograms and ultrasound, women who have a high risk for developing breast cancer may be advised to undergo yearly magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI), which are discussed further in "Advanced screenings provide a closer look."