HealthMart 2009

Breast Cancer Mammography Screening

By Annie Stuart



Does the phrase ďbreast cancerĒ strike fear in your heart? If so, maybe itís because youíve lost a loved one to the disease. Or, it could be that you worry what might lie ahead if you need breast cancer treatment. Or, possibly youíve read these statistics: for American women, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed and the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

††††††† These can be scary thoughts. Fortunately mammography, which uses low-dose x-rays to examine the breasts, can help find breast cancer early Ė when itís most successfully treated. Did you know that mammograms can help detect breast cancer up to two years before either you or your doctor could feel any breast changes?2 Thatís a pretty powerful screening tool. Newer advances, such as digital mammography and computer-aided detection, enhance its effectiveness even more.

††††††† With early detection, you also have a greater range of treatment options available. Chances are the surgery and other therapies you might need would be less aggressive. Best of all, of course, your risk of dying is lowered when breast cancer is caught early.

††††††† Itís important to also know that mammograms have limitations. They canít detect all breast cancers. Even when a cancer is detected, prognosis can still be poor. And sometimes mammograms indicate cancer where it doesnít exist, prompting unnecessary tests and procedures.

††††††† The best time to schedule a mammogram is for the week following your period when your breasts are less tender. Thatís because compression is needed to get clear images and check for any abnormalities. Just remember Ė the test is brief! Donít forget to inform the mammography technician about any breast changes you have noticed and if thereís a chance you might be pregnant. Also, ask when you can expect to receive your results.

††††††† In addition to mammography, you can take other steps to catch breast cancer early. For example, itís a good idea to get know how your breasts normally feel. Report any breast changes right away to your health care providers. Starting in your 20s, you can begin doing breast self-exam (BSE). However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) no longer recommends monthly BSE. A review of studies showed that BSE doesnít reduce deaths from breast cancer and it doubles the number of unnecessary breast biopsies (a surgical procedure to remove and examine tissue). If you do BSE, have your doctor instruct you.

††††††† Even if youíre young, share with your doctor any family history of breast or ovarian cancer in relatives on either side of your family. Thatís important because screening guidelines differ for women at higher risk.

††††††† Hereís what the American Cancer Society recommends:

††††††† Want more information? We can help answer your questions. Or go to