Breast Cancer Screening
- By Dennis Gitonga
- July 19, 2021
- 79 views
What Is Breast Cancer Screening?
Screening for breast cancer means looking for signs of breast cancer in all women of a certain age or with certain risk factors, even if they have no symptoms. The goal of screening is to catch cancers early. Screening for breast cancer lowers the risk of dying of it; early-stage cancers are easier to treat than later-stage cancers, and the chance of survival is higher. Screening for breast cancer is done mostly by mammography (breast x-ray).
Benefits and Harms of Mammograms
Screening for breast cancer means looking for signs of breast cancer in all women, even if they have no symptoms. The goal of screening is to catch cancers early. Early-stage cancers are easier to treat than later-stage cancers, and the chance of survival is higher. Routine screening for breast cancer lowers one’s risk of dying of breast cancer.
Screening for breast cancer is done by mammography. A mammogram is a special series of x-rays taken of the breast. A doctor looks for any abnormal signs or patterns on the mammogram that might be breast cancer. These signs usually show up on the mammogram before any lump can be felt in the breast. If there is anything unusual on the mammogram, more tests have to be done. These tests can include another mammogram, an ultrasound, or a biopsy. Studies have shown that women who have routine mammograms have 10% to 25% less chance of dying of breast cancer than women who do not have mammograms.
When Should You Start Being Screened?
Because all women are different, there is not one universal “best” age to start screening for breast cancer. Mammograms are not very useful in younger women because the breast tissue is more dense, making it harder to see potential cancers. Also, the earlier women start having mammograms, the higher the lifetime chance of having a false-positive result or a case of overdiagnosis. On the other hand, delaying screening for too long can lessen the mortality benefit of catching cancers early. Some women with a high risk of breast cancer (particularly those with family members who have had breast cancer) should start screening earlier than others. For younger women, screening may include tests other than mammograms.
Every woman needs to make her own decision about balancing risks versus benefits. Talk to your primary care doctor about which breast cancer screening approach is best for you.
The SAHL Blog is a public service of SAHL Health. The information and recommendations appearing on this blog or any of our informational products are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, SAHL suggests that you consult your physician.