Everyone knows that at forty years old, you need to start having mammograms but there are a number of other imaging options to consider. Which one is right for you? To start, the largest percentage of women will begin with a screening mammogram at forty years old or a diagnostic mammogram if a breast lump is discovered. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breasts that is developed on film in a conventional manner or captured on computer as a digital image. The amount of radiation exposed to in a screening test is about 3mSv. By comparison, flying coast to coast has about 0.01-0.03mSv.
In the younger crowd (under thirty years old), or to further clarify something seen on a mammogram your healthcare provider may recommend an ultrasound. This simple, non-radiation exam has the ability to determine a solid structure from a fluid filled structure.
If you need additional work up or have breast implants, you may need a breast MRI. This test does not replace a mammogram or ultrasound and is not often used as a first line exam. Instead, it is important to assess tumor locations, if lymph nodes are involved, to detect early breast cancer not found on other exams, and assess the effect of chemotherapy. MRI does not involve radiation.
An uncommon imaging option gaining in popularity is breast thermography. Using infrared technology, this option screens the surface temperature of the breast to check for increased vascularity which is common in cancers. Known as angiogenesis, cancer recruits and directs blood vessels to it in order to grow and multiply.
There is no perfect imaging option out there but using a combination of a breast exam and the imaging options discussed, breast cancer can be detected early. In fact, a stage zero or one has a 98 percent survival rate which is amazing. So take my advice and don’t put off your breast screening.