Screening for Breast Cancer

Learn about the various imaging tests

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Your annual mammogram comes back with the report that a small area of one breast needs a closer look. You’re not worried yet, but your doctor wants you to schedule another mammogram and an ultrasound. You get rescreened and are told that the spot in question needs to be biopsied. What do all these tests check?

Screening mammogram – a medical imaging technique of the breast that uses low-dose X-rays to detect and evaluate breast changes that could involve tumors or cysts before they can be physically felt. It is usually the first imaging technique used to screen for breast cancer in women who have no symptoms. Many clinics and hospitals in Southern Oregon provide 3D mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis. Mammography by itself cannot prove breast cancer is present, but it can raise suspicion and suggest further screening. Guidelines differ, but The National Cancer Institute recommends that women 40 and older have mammograms every one to two years: Check with your doctor to see what’s right for you.

Diagnostic mammogram – a diagnostic mammogram is used if breast changes or symptoms are noticed, or if a routine screening mammogram has found a suspicious-looking area. During a diagnostic mammogram, more X-rays are taken of the breast than during a screening mammogram and additional pictures are focused on the area of concern.

Ultrasound imaging – a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to view soft tissues, such as muscles and internal organs. For breast cancer diagnosis, ultrasound may be used to determine the causes of an abnormality detected by mammography or physical exam, especially if the patient has very dense breast tissue. Ultrasound may also be used for guiding breast biopsy.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a medical imaging technique that uses a very large magnet and radio waves to visualize internal structures of the body in detail. MRI can create more detailed images of the human body than are possible with X-rays. MRI technology can detect breast cancers measured in milometers, so small that mammography or ultrasound may miss them. The American Cancer Society recommends MRI scans in addition to annual mammograms starting at age 30 for high-risk women.

MRI-guided breast biopsy – a medical procedure using MRI imaging and a hollow needle to remove tissue, cells or fluid from the breast for examination.

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