Breast cancer screening recommendations used to be one-size-fits-most (high-risk women had earlier, more frequent screenings). That meant Dolly Parton got the same screening as Kate Moss. But the latest efforts to individualize the process may be what you need to detect cancer early on - especially if you have dense breast tissue, implants, a genetic predisposition or other individual risk factors. So, here's our short course on the options.
Manual exams: Self-exams and annual clinical exams haven't proven to detect cancer sooner or improve outcomes. We say still do 'em, but rely on newer technologies (we like tomosynthesis - see below) for accurate diagnosis.
Mammograms? Radiation exposure may increase breast cancer risk for some, and the accuracy of results depends on who reads the X-ray. But mammograms do spot cancers and save lives. Current recommendations: women 50-74, every two years; women 40-50, only if you're high-risk. Some medical organizations do advocate yearly screenings from age 40. So do we!
New technologies: Used in place of - or along with - a mammogram, these may deliver more reliable or safer results. Tip: Check if your mammogram center has equipment from 2012 or newer. If it doesn't and you can't find one that does, ask for tomosynthesis.
- Digital breast tomosynthesis creates 3-D images; overlapping tissue can't obscure what's inside the breast.
- Contrast-enhanced mammography highlights potential tumors with a dye, improving reading accuracy 80 percent.
- MRI is radiation-free and highly revealing, but expensive.
- Automated whole-breast ultrasound doubles cancer detection rates when used with a mammogram.