We aren’t just fans of mammograms - we’re fans of early detection. As it happens, mammograms are a great tool for finding breast cancers. But as we remind you to get your annual mammogram, we will also remind you that it is still imperfect. This is why we tout the importance of self-exams, clinical exams, and other imaging methods.
We strive for perfection in all of imaging, but the reality is there is no perfect method for diagnosing breast cancer. Mammograms miss around 10-15% of cancers, for lots of different reasons. Let’s rephrase: mammograms catch upwards of 85-90% of all breast cancers. Mammograms rock! But because they can’t catch everything, other ways of screening the breast are important.
Self-exams and clinical breast exam:
You come in for your screening mammogram annually. Good for you! That’s as it should be. But some things crop up between screenings and you can be the one to catch it. Self-exams are an excellent tool in your breast health kit. The redundancy of your breast self-exam in conjunction with your mammogram - that’s key. Your clinical breast exam by your health care provider is also a means of screening - and important additional step to complete breast evaluation.
Digital mammography and breast ultrasound:
If you have dense breasts (which we've talked about here, here, here and here), make sure your mammogram is done with digital technique. Digital is more accurate in this group of women. Breast ultrasound can be used to screen breasts for those with dense tissue, finding cancers that mammography may miss because the dense tissue is harder to interpret on the mammogram. Remember that for screening it’s not either/or - it’s both/and.
If you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer, breast MRI is an additional means of screening that may be used. This is usually reserved for those with higher risk, based on family history, genetic alterations or prior radiation to the chest. Because ultrasounds, mammograms, and MRI are different imaging methods, they have different ways of evaluating the tissue that are unique and complementary. One does not substitute for the other - but will expand your doctor's knowledge of your breast health.
So, yes, yay, mammograms! They’re the best means of screening in the war of early detection. But they aren’t perfect - so we applaud redundancy in screening methods for finding cancer.
Originally published 9/17/13 on mammographykc.com.