Breast Cancer Screening: Beyond Mammograms


Mark L. Sundermeyer, MD
Oncologist at Abington Health

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women during 2014. Early detection remains a patient’s best shot at beating this disease, which is the second most common and second most deadly cancer for women. Today, breast cancer screening technologies go beyond mammograms.

You can learn more during Abington Health’s live web chat with Dr. Mark L. Sundermeyer, “The Latest Advancements in Breast Cancer Treatment,” on Thursday, March 20 at noon.

Although there has been some debate about when women should begin yearly mammograms, experts agree that these tests remain the best cancer screening tool available. The x-rays used in mammography can pick up abnormalities in breast tissue, which has helped reduce deaths from breast cancer by almost a third since 1990.

For some patients, however, other types of tests are recommended in addition to or in conjunction with mammography. Women who have an elevated risk of breast cancer may be advised to undergo a breast MRI.

Unlike a mammogram, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses magnetic fields instead of radiation to take a picture of the breast. According to the American College of Radiology, breast MRIs are indicated for women who have a lifetime breast cancer risk of about 20 to 25 percent. You might fall into this category if you have a strong family history of the disease, or carry a genetic mutation known as BRCA 1 or 2.

Because breast MRI is more sensitive than mammography, it is sometimes used to examine suspicious areas found on a mammogram more closely, or for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer to determine the extent of the disease.

A third kind of imaging test, breast ultrasound, uses sound waves to generate a picture of breast tissue. Like MRI, ultrasound can pick up things that mammograms may miss, and is less costly and more likely to be covered by insurance than a breast MRI, if medically indicated. It’s also been found to be useful in women with extremely dense breast tissue.

If you’d like to know more about either of these tests, your doctor can discuss the options in more detail and help you decide what is right for you.

Learn more about breast cancer at the next live Health Chat with Abington Health on Thursday, March 20th at 12 pm:  The Latest Advancements in Breast Cancer TreatmentSign up here.