Who Should Screen and How Often?
As women get older the risk of developing breast cancer goes up, hence the importance of screening regularly increases, too. Regardless of your age or family’s medical history, if you are above the age of 20 it is recommended that you undergo annual screenings for breast cancer.
The most common and efficient screening method for detecting early-stage breast cancer is the mammogram, since it can detect tumors long before they can be felt. You will be asked to stand in front of an X-ray machine as your breasts are compressed between two plastic plates for a few seconds, allowing harmless X-rays to take precise images of your breasts from two angles to ensure optimum analysis. Generally, mammograms can accurately discover cancers around 78% of the time.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI test uses magnetic waves to create a 3D image of the breasts and is particularly effective in detecting smaller breast cancers. To start with, a dye called a ‘contrast solution’ is injected into the body to help expose any lumps or tumors in the final image. Next, you enter a tube-shaped machine for an average of 30 minutes, during which time the images are developed. MRIs are not meant to substitute mammograms as they produce less accurate results. However, they are quite useful for gathering information on women who are known or suspected to have advanced breast cancer.
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)
CBE refers to the manual examination of breasts by an experienced physician who is qualified to diagnose suspicious lumps. The physician will examine your breasts and underarm area for any skin discoloration and changes in breast texture, size and shape. Even though CBEs are the least invasive tests, in 20% of the cases, qualified physicians are able to detect cancers that may be missed by other screening methods like mammograms.
An ultrasound is a painless, noninvasive test that creates an outline of a body part using sound waves emitted from a small hand-held device. While ultrasounds are also not recommended as mammogram replacements due to their relatively low accuracy rate, they can be used to screen women with dense breasts for whom a mammography may not be as effective. In addition, this particular test is more efficient when further assessing problems that are found during a clinical breast exam.