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Women's Health

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Think Pink: Get Your Mammogram

There are more screening options than ever before, so make that mammogram appointment — today.
WebMD Feature

It's not your favorite date, but you've got to do it get a yearly mammogram after age 40. If something is wrong, you'll be glad you did. If things are fine, you've got peace of mind. On National Mammogram Day, encourage a friend or sister, too.

Fewer women are dying from breast cancer, mostly due to early detection. In the past 10 years, the number of deaths has declined by 24%, reports Carol Lee, chairwoman of the Commission on Breast Imaging for the American College of Radiology, and professor of diagnostic radiology at Yale University School of Medicine.

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Breast cancer is most treatable in the early stages. That's why the American Cancer Society advises monthly self-exams, annual checkups with a doctor, and yearly mammograms. Women at high risk should get an MRI and a mammogram every year beginning at age 30 or at whatever age she and her doctor agree upon.

The problem with MRI is that it is a more sensitive test than a mammogram, studies have shown. MRI finds a lot of suspicious spots that turn out not to be breast cancer what's known as false-positives. However, for women whose family history or genetic inheritance puts them at very high risk for breast cancer, MRI findings can turn out to be cancer.

Advances in Mammogram Screening

Just as digital cameras have changed photographs, so digital mammography has improved breast imaging. Digital allows computer enhancements that provide a better, clearer picture of breast tissue which helps doctors detect many more cancers at an early stage.

One study of 42,760 women compared results from digital mammograms and traditional film mammograms one year afterward. Digital mammography was better at finding cancers in women under age 50, in women with dense breasts, and in pre- and peri-menopausal women but not for post-menopausal women, who have the highest rate of breast cancer.

Computer-aided detection (CAD) is a form of computer imaging that uses information stored in a database to highlight areas on any breast image that may require a second look. CAD can be used with both standard and digital mammograms.

However, one study of 222,135 women at 43 screening centers found that CAD did not result in significant improvements in cancer detection rates. It did increase the number of false-positive mammograms, resulting in significantly more patient callbacks and unnecessary biopsies.

These extra imaging techniques are not meant to replace mammography. They act as extra tools for women at increased risk to help avoid unnecessary biopsies, says Lee.

Reviewed on May 22, 2007

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