The cure rate for breast cancer is drastically improved when a cancer diagnosis is received earlier. This makes screening for the disease, which represents 30% of all new female cancers each year, a vital weapon in the fight against breast cancer.
Much research has been dedicated to the disease and the most effective treatments, including early diagnosis. The most recent American Cancer Society (ACS) recommendations for breast cancer screening in those without symptoms of or high risks of breast cancer suggest women between ages 40 and 44 have the option to start having a mammogram annually, women between ages 45 and 54 should definitely get an annual mammogram, and those 55 and older can switch to an every other year mammogram.
Does an annual mammogram represent the best chance for women to discover cancer as early as possible? Is this really the only way to screen for breast cancer?
Due to the focused radiation on the breast a mammogram requires, many question the safety of an annual test over time. We can look to the European Breast Screening Guidelines to see the reaction to the uncertainty of the safety of annual mammograms.
These guidelines suggest no screening under 44 years of age and then moving to a biennial or triennial screening program from 45 – 70 years old. These recommendations are based on the determination that the risk of an annual mammogram outweighs the benefits.
The efficacy of annual mammograms also leaves much to be desired. 1 of 8 women with breast cancer will have their diagnosis missed by mammogram results, and this figure is worse when we talk about very early diagnosis.
Some 50% of women will endure a false positive cancer diagnosis based on mammogram results. This leads to an immense amount of undue stress and further diagnostic testing in women who may have a “suspicious” finding on a mammogram that is not related to breast cancer.
The good news is there are other options to utilize as tools for the early detection of breast cancer. Ultrasound and thermography represent safer, more convenient, less expensive options that may combine to be the most accurate screening tools for the early detection of breast cancer.
The primary benefit of ultrasound is that it lacks the use of dangerous radiation that mammography features. Ultrasound uses safe, high-frequency sound waves directed through the breast and converts the response into images.
While ultrasound is not commonly used as a breast cancer screening tool, a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that ultrasound was nearly as sensitive in discovering breast cancer as mammography (ultrasound discovered 58 of 111 versus 59 of 111 by mammogram.) Unfortunately, ultrasound does misdiagnose breast cancer at a relatively high rate like mammography does but the test is inexpensive, painless, and lacks any radiation exposure.
Thermography represents another useful tool in the early diagnosis of breast cancer. The test demonstrates heat patterns that are strongly indicative of breast abnormalities. It can detect subtle changes in breast temperature that can indicate a variety of breast diseases. When abnormal heat patterns are detected in the breast, a follow-up mammogram or other procedures can be used to properly diagnose the issue.
Researchers in Canada determined that this type of thermography accurately discovered 83% of breast cancers versus 61% by clinical exam and 84% by mammogram. The combination of ultrasound and thermography offers a safe way to frequently screen for breast cancers, potentially leading to more early diagnoses.
Companies like HerScan are using this information to bring safe, effective screening tools to women where they are. They use state-of-the-art technology and leverage these tools with the experience of registered diagnostic medical sonographers and board-certified radiologists to supplement other breast cancer screening tools.
Simply put, mammograms alone are not the most effective breast cancer screening tools. However, combined at appropriate intervals with other advanced diagnostic tests like ultrasound and thermography, women can adopt an appropriate, safe screening program effective at catching breast cancer as early as possible. Early detection is the best weapon in the fight against this devastating disease!