Your Best Breast Cancer Screening Today
Here are three tests every woman should have.
Mammography: Still the Gold Standard continued...
There is an 85% chance that a mammogram will find breast
cancer, says Saslow, noting the percentage is significant, even if it's not
100%. A perfect test, she remarks, is not realistic at this time.
Most medical professionals stand by mammography, even with the
hazards that come with using it. The device can wrongly highlight something as
malignant when it is not. And it can fail to detect a true cancer. But its
success rate outweighs those drawbacks, experts say.
"There are risks to most screening methods," reminds
Helen Meissner, PhD, chief of National Cancer Institute's Applied Cancer
Screening Research Branch.
New Policy on Breast Self Exams
The risks to inspecting your own breasts are similar to the
hazards of the mammogram, in that you can miss a true cancer, or mistakenly
pinpoint something as a concern. However, doctors have still advised female
patients to perform a breast self exam every month.
Leading health groups used to give a strong recommendation for
such monthly tests, but after reviewing the studies on screening, they
determined there isn't enough evidence to advocate or reject the method.
"The recommendation (for the breast self exam) was never
based on evidence," says Saslow, because there is not enough available data
on the value of the technique. "It's enough to show that any effectiveness
would be extremely small."
Therefore, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends
neither for nor against teaching or performing routine breast self examination.
The National Cancer Institute has adopted the same policy.
The American Cancer Society guidelines on breast self exams
only advise women to be aware of their breasts, enough to notice any physical
changes. Women can achieve this awareness by occasionally looking at breasts
while taking a shower, getting dressed, or looking in the mirror.
Still, a monthly self exam is a great way of becoming familiar
with the texture of your own breasts, says Meissner. "There may be
insufficient evidence to recommend performing a self breast exam, but it
doesn't mean that women shouldn't do it."
Burstein encourages self-examination on a regular basis,
preferably after a menstrual cycle, when there are fewer changes in the
composition of the breast. Using the flat side of several fingers, he suggests
moving your fingers around the breast in a circular motion. It's a good idea,
he adds, to examine how the breast feels in a horizontal position (while lying
down), and in a vertical one (while standing in the shower).
The National Cancer Institute states that women performing
breast self exams should watch out for the following symptoms of breast
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
- A change in the size or shape of the breast
- Nipple discharge or tenderness, or the nipple pulled back (inverted) into
- Ridges or pitting of the breast (the skin looks like the skin of an
- A change in the way the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple looks or
feels (for example, warm, swollen, red or scaly)
Women who notice these symptoms are urged to see their doctor
for a clinical breast exam.