Feature Archive

Mammogram Still the Champ for Early Detection

Mammograms are still the best screening exam for detecting breast cancer early.

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

>Mammograms aren't perfect, but they're still the best tool we have for detecting breast cancer in its early -- and most curable and treatable -- stages. That's the message breast cancer specialists want women to hear -- and to heed.

"Mammograms detect only 85% of breast cancers," says Lauralyn Markle, MD, medical director of MemorialCare Breast Center at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif. But 85% is a formidable number when it comes to such an important screening test, she explains.

Because mammograms aren't foolproof, they are considered one part of a three-pronged breast cancer detection program for women, along with monthly breast self-exams and a clinical exam conducted by a health care provider.

Seventy-five percent of breast cancer patients have no family history of the disease, Markle tells WebMD, emphasizing how important it is for all women to follow the generally accepted recommendations of an annual screening mammogram, annual clinical exam by a health care professional, and monthly breast self-exam.

Begin Screenings at 40

While there has been debate in recent years on when to begin receiving screening mammograms and how often to have them, many organizations and health care professionals -- including the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and numerous national women's groups -- recommend that women begin mammography screening by the age of 40, or as suggested by their physician. These groups also recommend clinical breast examinations by a health care professional every three years between the ages of 20 and 40, and every year for women 40 and over.