The risks and benefits of screening mammography are under constant scrutiny. Detecting breast cancer early is a lifesaving move, but does radiation emitted from the machines put you at greater risk for cancer? And do the images truly detect when there is a problem?
While mammography is the best screening tool for breast cancer available today, mammograms simply do not detect all breast cancers. Recent debates involving mammograms include how often women should be exposed to them during their lifetime, what age they should begin, and controversy last year over a small portion of mammograms indicating a cancer could possibly be present when it is not (called a false-positive result).
Research is being done on a variety of breast imaging techniques that can contribute to the early detection of breast cancer and improve the accuracy in distinguishing non-cancerous breast conditions from breast cancers.
A special report appearing online in the October issue of Radiology, the journal of the Radiological Society of North America, said some nuclear-based breast imaging exams may increase a woman’s risk of developing radiation-induced cancer, however, the radiation dose and risk from mammography are very low.
According to the report, two types of imaging, Breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI) and Positron emission mammography (PEM) approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and introduced into clinical practice show promise in detecting cancer at a higher rate than traditional mammograms, however both involve the injection of radioactive materials into the patient.
"A single BSGI or PEM examination carries a lifetime risk of inducing fatal cancer greater than or comparable to a lifetime of annual screening mammography starting at age 40," said the study's author, R. Edward Hendrick, Ph.D., clinical professor of radiology at the University of Colorado-Denver, School of Medicine in Aurora, Co.
BSGI uses a high-resolution gamma camera that allows for imaging with mild compression of the breast along with an injection of a nuclear radiotracer, which is absorbed at a higher rate by cancerous cells.