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Making Sense of Breast Cancer Screening

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Breast cancer has gone from a taboo topic to one that’s discussed everywhere women go. That includes mixed advice about screening and the good news that earlier detection has helped reduce mortality.

But how does someone figure out what’s right for them as an individual?

Should you or shouldn’t you have a mammogram and when and how often? Or a breast ultrasound? Or a breast MRI?

What about having a new 3D tomosynthesis screening exam (sort of a 3D mammogram)? And where do self breast exams fit in?

It can be hard to keep it straight, especially when government panels and your doctor don’t agree. But most doctors urge women to have a mammogram yearly beginning at age 40.

Beth Long of Orland Park, Illinois near Chicago had some unusual findings on her mammograms. Doctors kept watch on it and finally, when there were changes, they recommended a lumpectomy.

Doctors know that when breast cancer can be treated at its earliest stages this affords the best chance for a cure. Lives are saved with this approach.

Recently I interviewed Beth and her doctor, breast surgeon Kevin Bethke, at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Bethke explained the guidelines for screening and underscored their importance for you and the women you care about.

He also explained where ultrasound fits in and the positives and negatives of breast MRIs. The program, Breast Cancer Screening Saves Lives, is on Patient Power at

It’s important to remember that most mammograms come back negative. And even if something is spotted, when it is checked further, with biopsy and ultrasound, the result most often comes back negative.

So while the risk of breast cancer is real, screening can usually rule it out or, if cancer is spotted, can detect it at an early, treatable stage. Beth Long knows it’s made a big difference for her!

About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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