Mammography For Early Detection Of Breast Cancer – Uses and Risks

Mammography is a specialized breast imaging using low dose x-ray to screen the breasts for early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. The process is to produce mammograms that are pictures of inside of the breasts. Mammograms can be categorized into digital mammography, computer-aided detection and breast tomosynthesis according to the technology involved.

Digital mammography

It is full-field digital mammography (FFDM) and it uses electronics instead of x-ray films. The electronics translate x-rays into detail mammographic pictures of the breasts. These mammograms are similar to digital images clicked with digital cameras. The images are transferred to computer for viewing.

Computer-aided detection (CAD)

CAD highlights abnormal areas that show high density, mass and calcification that could be due to cancerous tissues.

Digital breast tomosynthesis

It is called three-dimensional imaging or 3D mammography. It is an advance form of imaging as it involves capturing multiple images of breasts from different angles and synchronizing the images into 3D mammograms. The images are similar to the results obtained by CT scanning but a slightly higher dose of x-rays is used for DBT.

Breast tomosynthesis is more helpful in detecting breast cancer as the results are clearer than other mammograms. The result shows:

* Small cancers normally hidden in conventional mammograms
* Greater accuracy in locating cancer and determining its size and spread
* No biopsy or any additional test needed
* Can detect multiple tumors in breasts

DBT provides clear images that reduce chances of abnormalities and need to call-back the patient for screening or need of additional tests to confirm breast cancer.

Mammograms highlight areas of cancerous activity even when there are no physical signs or symptoms available to prove cancer. Mammogram can also help in diagnosing cancer in women experiencing physical symptoms like presence of lump in breasts, nipple discharge and skin dimpling.

Screening mammography

It is the normal procedure where patient appears for annual screening on advice of her doctor. The patient is taken as normal and screening is done to make sure that there are no signs or traces of cancerous tissues in the breasts.

Diagnostic mammography

It is advised when a patient shows symptoms of presence of cancerous tissues in breasts. It can be said that a diagnostic mammogram is done to explore a particular area in the breasts. This very test is more accurate in diagnosing breast cancer.

Advantages of mammograms

* Imaging of breasts highlights every area with great details where even the small tumors can be sighted. When cancer is at its early stage, patients have more treatment options.

* Screening mammogram can detect growth of abnormal tissues confined to milk ducts in breasts. These tumors can easily be removed at earliest stage and life saved. Screening mammogram can also detect other types of breast tumors.

* No radiation remains in body after imaging is done

* No side effect of x-rays in this particular physical examination

Mammograms have reduced death rate due to breast tumor by 25-30% or more. The procedure is 100% safe and results more accurate than any other test. Early detection in a safe manner is the biggest benefits of mammography. It is advised that women should go for annual screening for early detection of tumor so that they can take remedial measures on right time.

Just like benefits, there are some harms of mammography. Exposure to x-rays could cause cancer but here in mammogram imaging, the x-ray dose is kept safe. Another disadvantage of mammogram screening is that it isn’t 100% accurate and in many cases doctors recommend other tests like ultrasound or biopsy. But the advantage of early detection is the benefit that outweighs all the disadvantages.

Limitations of mammograms

Mammography test detects cancer at an early stage but it also has some limitations. For instance, it can determine whether the cancer is benign or malignant. Increased breast density is also an impediment to mammogram reading. It is difficult to locate a cancer on a mammogram, if the breast density is increased.

Breast implants obstruct x-rays and in this way prevent getting complete details of the breast tissues. If the patient has had breast surgery then it won’t be possible to see cancer on her breasts in a mammography test. Also it can’t see all types of cancers but it is the best way to detect most types of cancers known to medical science.

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