breast cancer

Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines

May is Women’s Health Month, and this year highlights important updates in breast cancer screening guidelines from the USPSTF. With approximately 240,000 new cases and 43,000 deaths annually from breast cancer, earlier and more frequent mammograms are critical for early detection and improved outcomes. This week on Fox 17, Dr.Bitner discusses the importance of a mammogram and updated screening guidelines. 

Fact #1

A mammogram is an x-ray machine designed to take pictures through breast tissue to detect early cancer. During the exam, the machine compresses the breast between two plates to spread out the tissue. This provides a clear image and less radiation exposure. The x-ray examines the tissue for any signs of abnormalities, such as lumps, calcifications, or other changes that could indicate the presence of cancer or other breast conditions. 

Fact #2

Other imaging options include MRIs and ultrasounds. These options help evaluate breast lumps or masses that may have been detected during a mammogram. They aid the screening to help differentiate between fluid-filled cysts, usually non-cancerous, and solid masses, which may require further evaluation. Often, if a woman is at high risk for breast cancer, their provider will add an MRI and ultrasound to their regular screening to ensure accuracy and early detection. 

Fact #3

The key to early detection is understanding your risk. Every organization has slightly different recommended screening options. However, healthcare providers universally recommend that women between the ages of 40 and 45 undergo their first screening for breast cancer. If you are at high risk, relying solely on regular mammogram screenings may not be enough, and you should consider additional options. Knowing your family history and your risk of breast cancer will help determine when you should begin screening.

Fact #4

Your mammogram report is required by law to state your breast density. Breast density is described as the proportion of fibrous and glandular tissue compared to fatty tissue in the breast. This ratio is important because the density of your breast affects your risk for breast cancer and detection accuracy. Dense tissue is divided into four classifications. The denser two classes can decrease the mammogram’s ability to detect small lumps. If your report does not state your breast density, follow up with your doctor and consider discussing additional screening options that might be right for you.

Patient story: 

Jane, 41, visited her doctor and complained of some tenderness on the right of her breast that had been there for two weeks. Her doctor did a physical exam and detected a lump in her breast. Jane’s doctor was familiar with her family history of early death from cancer, so she went ahead and scheduled a mammogram.  

The result of Jane’s mammogram showed she had a breast density of 4, tiny punctate calcium deposits, and a small lymph node in her neck. Due to breast density, the doctors proceeded with an ultrasound. The exam showed a more detailed image of her lump’s dimension. The lump was biopsied and confirmed to be benign.

Although Jane has no cause for worry, she appreciates her doctor’s advocacy on her behalf. She’s also thankful for undergoing additional screening and tests to confirm her well-being. Jane is committed to scheduling annual mammograms to prioritize her health and stay on top of early detection.

Takeaway Tip: 

If you are 40 or older, know your risk factors for breast cancer and make breast screening an annual practice.  Open communication with your healthcare provider enables proactive health management, ensuring you can continue enjoying life without worry.

Watch the full segment here.