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Breast Cancer Screenings

Screening and diagnostic testing is an essential part of maintaining your breast health for early identification of suspicious symptoms that may require medical care or guide your treatment plan.

Breast Cancer Screening Tests

Screening tests often find disease before symptoms develop and when cancer is easiest to treat.

Because approximately three-fourths of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history or other risk factors for the disease, screening is important for everyone. The most common screening tests are breast self-exams and mammograms.

  • Breast Self-Exams - More than a third of diagnosed breast cancers are first detected by women who felt a lump. Adult women of all ages are encouraged to conduct breast self-exams at least once monthly. Although breast self-exams cannot detect everything, they help you become familiar with your breasts so you can spot changes that should be discussed with your doctor.
  • Clinical Breast Exams - An in-office checkup is normally part of your annual physical exam. It is performed by a primary care physician or gynecologist who is trained to recognize many types of abnormalities that may need additional testing and evaluation.
  • Mammograms - Mammograms are the front line of testing to protect your breast health. The American Cancer Society recommends that women from age 40 to 44 have the option for annual mammograms. Age 45 to 54 get annual mammograms with the option to go every other year starting age 55. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you should should have a baseline mammogram at age 35 and follow your doctor’s advice about subsequent mammograms before age 40. Tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, acquires multiple images of the breast from different angles. These are computer co-registered to create a clear three dimensional image of your breast that a specially trained radiologist can study, layer by layer, to detect cancer cells at their tiniest, earliest stages of development, when they are most treatable.

If your mammogram detects suspicious tissue, then diagnostic testing is often scheduled.

Breast Cancer Diagnostic Tests

Diagnostic tests are performed when your symptoms or screening test results lead physicians to suspect breast cancer or to gather more information about your cancer to guide decisions about treatment.

  • Breast Ultrasound - A breast ultrasound uses painless penetrating sound waves that do not damage tissue to create a computer-generated detailed image of what’s going on inside your breast. Healthcare professionals also use this diagnostic method to help measure the exact size and location of the lump and get a closer look at the surrounding tissue.
  • Breast MRI - A powerful magnet transmits painless magnetic energy and radio waves (not radiation) through your breast tissue. This scan is connected to a computer that uses the data to create detailed images of areas within your breast that help radiologists distinguish between healthy and diseased tissue and to assess the extent of any cancerous growths you may have.
  • Biopsy - A biopsy removes a tiny amount of tissue that is sent to a medical laboratory to determine whether or not it contains cancerous cells.

Breast Cancer Monitoring Tests

Once breast cancer is diagnosed, many tests are used during and after your treatment to monitor how well your therapies are working. Monitoring tests also may be used to check for any signs of recurrence. These may include blood tests, bone scans, X-rays or CT scans.

Tracking Medical Records

Keeping your medical records is an important part of dealing with any serious medical problem. Because comparing test results over time is such an important part of designing successful continuity of care, all of your doctors should have immediate access to the results of all tests and procedures you have undergone.

Mammography

Mammograms aren’t fun, and anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is a liar. But the fact is, they are vital – since they are still the most effective form of early detection for breast cancer.

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