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The Latest in Breast Cancer Detection

New breast screening technologies are offering women more individualized care -- and a better chance at survival.

Getting Screened

Of course proper screening is crucial in detecting breast cancer. Though mammogram remains the most recommended choice, there are a number of newer options out there.

When it comes to advances in screening technology itself, some experts say digital mammography is at the top of the list.

In much the way digital cameras changed the face of our family photo album, doctors say that so, too, does digital mammography have the potential to reshape the face of breast imaging.

"The experience for the woman -- and the machine itself -- are largely the same; but what the digital does is allow contrast manipulations and other types of computerized enhancements to give us a better, clearer picture of what is going on in the breast," says Lee.

Experts like Etta Pisano, MD, who directed the largest clinical trail to date on digital mammography, says this clearer picture will help doctors discover many more cancers at an earlier, more easily treated stage.

"We did both digital and film mammograms with a year follow-up on 42,760 women -- and we found that digital mammography was better at finding cancers in women under age 50, in women with dense breasts, and in pre- and perimenopausal women," says Pisano, director of breast imaging at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Though there are no studies showing digital mammography saves lives, Pisano tells WebMD that "the kind of cancers we found are the kind that kill women, so we're pretty sure digital mammography has lifesaving potential."

On the downside, it doesn't provide any advantage for postmenopausal women -- those with the highest rate of breast cancercancer. And it is expensive, with equipment costing up to five times that of traditional mammography. That said, Lee explains that for the right woman, it can make an enormous difference.

Computers and Breast Screening

Further expanding on computer imaging is an advance known as CAD. Lee says CAD uses information stored in a database to highlight areas on any breast image that may require a second look -- including those taken by standard mammography.

"It has been shown that using CAD will increase cancercancer detection rate; it will cause a few more false positives, but it also picks up more cancers," says Lee.

While not all facilities use CAD, Lee suggests women ask before they make their appointment, adding that "it could be especially important if you are at high risk."

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