Breast health is a serious science, but the science of finding and diagnosing breast cancer is imperfect... even today in 2013. The statistics on SAVING LIVES through early imaging detection are solid. But equally important is the knowledge of mammography's short-comings.
Most people assume that an annual mammogram is all it takes to ensure early detection. Whoops. You know what people say about the word "assume..."
Mammography is imperfect. Most studies show accuracy rates in finding breast cancer through mammography alone on the order of 85%. There are lots of reasons for not finding those other 15%, including difficulties evaluating dense tissue and breast cancers that are in an area, like the breast closest to the chest wall, that are hard to completely include in the mammogram. Some cancer types, like lobular (as opposed to the more common cancer coming from the duct) are harder to detect on mammography. This is why a yearly clinical breast exam is a key component to the whole evaluation of breast health. Medical care professionals know what to look out for, and can help you determine if something requires further evaluation.
Monthly self-exams are also a key part of breast health. Throughout your cycle, your breasts change in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, things such as tenderness, areas of thickening and discomfort. Because self-exams are done at regular intervals, and because every woman's body is different you may notice a change or abnormality that isn't right for you. You are your own original "primary care giver" when it comes to knowing if something has changed with your body. If there is a change in your breasts that concerns you, make that appointment to get it evaluated.
So, mammograms: are they important? Oh yes! Are they the only key to early detection? Absolutely not. The war against breast cancer is waged on many fronts. Mammography is an invaluable tool, but your annual clinical breast examination and your monthly breast self-exams are needed in the fight for total breast health.
Originally published 7/29/13 on mammographykc.com.