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Are Breast Cancers Detected by Mammography Different?

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"There's no question that mammography is useful for early detection of breast tumors," Smith says. The assumption is that if the tumor is detected early, there's less probability that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The spread of disease at the time of diagnosis is the most important indicator of outcome, he says, "so detecting the disease early seems to be a good thing."

Being able to characterize the different types of tumor cells even further would be ideal, says Smith, and he predicts that that will happen in the foreseeable future. "Many universities and researchers at the NSABP are attempting to characterize and determine the genetic defects associated with breast tumors, and to correlate that with tumor behavior and prognosis. ? Then a treatment course could be designed based on the tumor type."

Vital Information:

  • A new study reports that while mammograms catch breast cancer in its early stages, it also finds cancer cells that grow slowly and may not need aggressive treatments. But when a tumor is found on the mammogram, doctors can't tell if it will spread quickly or not.
  • An observer notes that today's mammography techniques help catch most breast cancer tumors much earlier than was possible 20 years ago. But doctors aren't sure whether finding a tumor early in its development leads to more survival time for the patient, or if it just gets treatment started earlier in the development of the disease that runs its course.
  • Doctors are still trying to answer that question. The observer notes that learning to identify different breast cancer types and whether they grow quickly could help tailor treatment to the individual patient's needs.
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