Breast cancer screening means checking the breasts for signs of cancer even before they have symptoms. Screening is done to find cancer early when it can be treated. Your doctor may recommend screening even when you have no symptoms. Talk to your doctor to determine the right kind of screening test for you.
Types of screening
This is the most common type of screening test. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. They help to find tumors that are so small you can’t feel them. It can also help to find ductal carcinoma in situ(DCIS) where abnormal cells line the breast duct.
Women age 40-54 are recommended to get mammograms every year.
Women 55 and older who are at average risk can get mammograms done every two years.
Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and expected to live ten more years or longer.
Types of mammograms
There are three types of mammograms.
- Film mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast.
- Digital mammogram is a picture of the breast taken by a computer.
- Digital breast tomosynthesis takes pictures of the breast from many angles using X-rays. A computer then makes 3D images of the breast using these pictures.
Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI)
The breast MRI uses magnets, radio waves, and computers to take detailed pictures of the breast tissues. This is used in addition to the mammogram to screen women at high risk of getting cancer. MRI does not use X-rays and you are not exposed to radiation.
Factors that put women at risk include a family history of breast cancer(mother, daughter, or sister), certain gene changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and some genetic conditions like Li-Fraumeni and Cowden Syndrome.
Clinical Breast Exam
The breasts are inspected and checked for lumps or any other abnormality by a doctor or health professional.
Breast Self Examination
This is not usually included as part of breast screening because there is no evidence to show that it decreases the chances of dying from cancer. However, it helps you to become familiar with the look and feel of your breast so you can know when there are unusual changes in the breast.