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A Doctor's View on Breast Cancer Detection

Read the Comment by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Breast cancer detection can be achieved by a variety of methods. Screening for breast cancer can be detected at earlier stages with mammography (mammograms). Other methods of breast cancer detection include:

  • ultrasound with mammography,
  • MRI,
  • breast cancer biopsy, and
  • fine needle aspiration of the suspicious breast tissue.
Read the entire Doctor's View

What tests do physicians use to diagnose breast cancer?

Although breast cancer can be diagnosed by the above signs and symptoms, the use of screening mammography has made it possible to detect many of the cancers early before they cause any symptoms.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has the following recommendations for breast cancer screenings:

Women should have the opportunity to begin annual screening between 40-44 years of age. Women age 45 and older should have a screening mammogram every year until age 54. Women 55 years of age and older should have biennial screening or have the opportunity to continue screening annually. Women should continue screening mammography as long as their overall health is good and they have a life expectancy of 10 years or longer.

Picture of a woman getting a mammogram
Picture of a woman getting a mammogram; photo courtesy of Getty Images

Mammograms are a very good screening tool for breast cancer. As in any test, mammograms have limitations and will miss some cancers. An individual's family history and mammogram and breast exam results should be discussed with a health-care provider.

The ACS does not recommend clinical screening exams in women of any age.

Women at high risk (greater than 20% lifetime risk) should get an MRI and a mammogram every year. Women at moderate risk (15%-20%) should talk to their doctor about the benefits and limitations of adding MRI screening to their yearly mammogram.

Return to Breast Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: Kathy, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: January 25

My mammogram in December of 2016, was fine. Afterwards I got a copy of a letter in the mail saying I had type D dense breast and I could get an MRI if I paid for it. I looked over my last three mammograms and saw that each year my breast density was increased to the next level. No one ever told me density increases or that it was a real issue. I paid for the fast MRI and it lit up a small under 1 cm mass. I had a second look MRI four days later and a biopsy two weeks later which showed well differentiated invasive ductal cancer with lobular features or something similar. Seeing breast surgeon this week. Sounds early so I am grateful.

Was this comment helpful?Yes
Comment from: Leslie, (Patient) Published: February 04

I am 52 and was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer when I was 44. It was very fast, very aggressive. I had pain and itching in the affected breast. I also had fibrocystic disease from my teen years on. I was lucky that we caught the cancer because it grows in sheets, not round, and regular mammograms don't see it, and my breast tissue is so dense and full of cysts that it is hard to view. But irregular areas of a different shade made it suspect, then a special ultrasound, made it probable, then a special MRI showed a 'dot-dash like matrix extending posteriorly from the nipple exteriorly to the chest wall'. It was fast and aggressive, within one month when we were doing more tests, biological markers, and putting in the port, my breast had nipple distortion, a 4 inch 'dent' extending upward towards the 1:00 position, and redness, then a change in the skin appearance. They started chemotherapy 3 days after the port insertion, instead of waiting the usual 2 weeks. It's been a rough 8 years. My daughter had ruptured ovarian cysts at the age of 12, and was diagnosed with fibrocystic disease at the age of 13, with a biopsy. She has it worse than me. I'm BRAC negative, but have been told that there are other genes which play into breast cancer and obviously my daughter is at a much higher risk and should start having mammograms at 24. Please everyone, be alert! Don't think it won't be you, and doesn't happen to you. I was told that I had a 10 percent survival chance for 5 years, the cancer was in my chest wall, and considered systemic, I had thyroid cancer concurrently (2 types), I had a nodule in my lung which was removed, and several other scares. But I'm here, I'm considered stable (not cured), and will be on medication for life (hopefully a really long one). Be vigilant, and note the changes in the pain and be persistent with doctors; when you know something isn't right be persistent! Originally my doctor told me it was most likely an infection, there was only a dime sized area of redness, I told her it was cancer, and bad, I knew it, and she listened and ordered the specialized mammogram and ultrasound for the next day.

Was this comment helpful?Yes
Comment from: Joanne, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: January 07

My breast cancer was detected by mammogram only. I can't emphasize enough how important getting your mammogram is. It saved my life.

Was this comment helpful?Yes

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