The American Cancer Society estimates that one out of every nine women will develop breast cancer. What can you do to help decrease your risk of breast cancer? One way is by making sure you are getting regular mammograms. So, when should you start getting screened? Between 40 and 50 years of age, either a mammogram every year or every other year is acceptable. After age 50, annual mammograms are recommended.
Radiologists interpret mammograms. The key abnormalities that they are looking for are calcifications and masses. Microcalcifications are small specks of calcium that may suggest the presence of a cancer in a particular area of the breast. Depending on the appearance of the calcifications, the radiologist may recommend further evaluation with repeat mammography or biopsy of the area. Masses on mammogram may be benign, like a cyst or fibroadenoma. Ultrasound or needle aspiration may be recommended in order to obtain a clear diagnosis. About 10-20% of cancers will not be seen on mammogram because their appearance is too similar to the surrounding breast tissue. That is why regular annual breast exams by a physician and routine self breast exams are also important.
Digital mammography is one of the new technologies used in early detection of breast cancer. It has been shown to detect up to 28% more cancers than the routine mammogram in women 50 years old and younger and women with particularly dense breast tissue. The images are collected in the same way as the previous method but the images are then stored on computer which allows for better picture quality and evaluation by the radiologist.
Remember that early detection is key - when breast cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is 97%!