Performing monthly self-exams is an important way to catch breast cancer before it develops a condition that could affect other parts of your body. Regular breast cancer screening can help you identify breast cancer in its early stages before you even realize on your own that the condition existed and needed attention.
Mammograms are currently the most popular form of breast cancer screening. This breast cancer screening technique uses low doses of X-rays to locate microcalcifications or masses in the breasts. Finding a mass does not necessarily mean that the patient has cancer, since many masses – or lumps – can prove to be benign tissue. Further diagnostic tests should follow the breast cancer screening to determine whether the mass is cancerous.
The advantage of regular breast cancer screening is that it can detect potentially cancerous masses before any symptoms become apparent. Annual screenings are the most effective. Because the screenings usually occur before any symptoms, they need to be done regularly to catch the cancer before it can spread to other parts of the body.
The biggest advantage of regular breast cancer screening is that it can recognize warning signs before you notice any symptoms. A breast cancer screening can locate a mass before it is large enough to feel during a self-exam. Women who begin treatment in the first stage of breast cancer almost always survive the disease for at least five years. The survival rate begins to decrease once the disease enters stage II. The earlier the cancer is caught, the higher the survival rate.
Women who have already had breast cancer should also receive regular screenings. Because these women have a higher risk of getting cancer again, a mammogram can detect any early signs of recurrence and stop it from developing into significant health problems.
While mammograms are currently the most used type of breast cancer screening, there are some disadvantages. Mammograms have a 10 percent false negative rate. In other words, 10 percent of women who receive mammograms get results that tell them they do not have breast cancer when, in fact, they do. This occurs because, in some cases, breast tissue can obscure small lumps.
About seven percent of the mammogram breast cancer screenings result in false positives. While further tests will reveal the absence of cancer before treatment is started, a false positive can cause intense anxiety in patients who believe they have breast cancer.
Since mammogram breast cancer screenings use X-rays, they may increase the risk of a patient developing cancer in the future. Since exposure to radiation increases a person’s risk of developing cancer, any type of X-ray should only be used when medically necessary.
While mammography is the most commonly preferred breast cancer screening method today, other techniques are also available. Many doctors use ultrasounds to further study masses located during the mammogram. Ductograms study nipple discharge, but they are typically used when mammogram results are inconclusive or non-diagnostic. If you are concerned about X-ray exposure from regular mammograms, you and your physician should discuss other screening options available to you.