Breast Imaging: What’s Right for you?
According to the American Cancer Society, in the United States, about 245,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. Roughly, 40,000 women will die of breast cancer in a given year, which makes it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women.
One reason breast cancer can be so deadly is that it may not be diagnosed until it is advanced. By the time a woman can feel a lump, it tends to be large and may have spread outside the breast. That’s why breast cancer screening is so important. Breast cancer screening can detect cancer in its earliest stage, which often improves outcomes. But when it comes to breast cancer screening, what type of medical imaging scan is best?
Different Options in Breast Imaging
Before you can decide what type of imaging scan is best, it’s helpful to understand your options. There are different imaging scans, such as a mammogram, MRI and ultrasound, which may be used to help doctors detect breast cancer.
Mammograms are the most frequently used breast cancer screening scans. A mammogram involves the use of radiation to take images of the breast from different angles. Mammograms have been found to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by about 30 percent in women age 40 to 75.
Another imaging scan, which can be used to detect breast cancer is an MRI. An MRI involves the use of radio waves to create pictures of the breast. An MRI may be recommended for people who have a high risk of breast cancer.
Ultrasound is also used to detect abnormalities in the breast. Ultrasound does not use radiation. Instead, it involves the use of high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the breast. But ultrasound alone is not usually considered a reliable scan for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stage. Ultrasounds of the breast often produce many false negatives and false positive results.
What is 3-d Mammography?
A type of digital mammogram, known as 3-D mammography, is also an option for some women. Traditional mammograms create 2-D images of the breast. 3-D mammograms use the same x-ray technology as 2-D mammograms and are performed the same way. The difference between the two mammograms is the angles the images are taken.
During a 2-D mammogram, images are taken from the front and the back. But in a 3-D mammogram, pictures of the breast are taken from many different angles, which provides pictures of the tissue in slices. The theory is it may be easier to detect abnormalities using 3-D images. Since 3-D mammograms have only been approved by the FDA since 2011, studies are limited in how effective they are in detecting cancer early and saving lives.
How to Choose What Breast Imaging is Best for You
The type of imaging scan, which is recommended may depend on your risk for developing the disease. Mammograms are recommended for women who have a low or average risk of developing breast cancer. The screening is noninvasive and does not require any special prep. Although it’s essential to discuss specific recommendations with your doctor, the American Cancer Society recommends women start getting mammograms by age 40.
Women who have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, such as those with a strong family history of the disease or who have tested positive for the BRCA gene may be advised to get an MRI. An MRI is more sensitive in detecting both invasive and noninvasive breast cancers. But there has not been a clear link between MRI breast cancer screening and a decreased death rate from breast cancer. An MRI may also not be an option for all women since there are some restrictions for getting the scan.
An ultrasound is usually not recommended as a routine breast screening scan. But it is a useful screening for evaluating breast swelling, a palpable lump or other specific areas of concern found on a mammogram. For example, an ultrasound can distinguish between a solid tumor and a fluid filled cyst. Ultrasounds are usually recommended after an abnormal mammogram.
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