How To Catch Breast Cancer Early: Stanford Doctors Explain Mammography Options


There are many ways of approaching breast
imaging, and because there’s so many technologies people get confused. The standard screening method for women, is
the X-ray imaging of the breast, or mammography, Mammography is fantastic at identifying little
tiny white dots on a mammogram, which represent calcifications, the earliest stage of breast
cancer. A weakness of mammography, would be in the
setting of a woman who has very dense breast tissue, and that’s because, dense breasted
women have mammograms that are almost entirely white. And so, cancer, which is, also, often,
seen as a white abnormality is harder to detect. That said, it is still a very good test for
screening all women, and has been shown to reduce mortality from breast cancer. Another way of looking for breast cancer is
with breast ultrasound. Although mammography can find many breast cancers, sometimes ultrasound
actually will find others. The problem is that it will miss those little calcium particles. Now, there’s other ways of looking at the
breast besides mammography and ultrasound. One is MRI, and MRI uses strong magnets to
look through the breast tissue, and they give contrasts in the arm. And what happens is
that those cancers will light up bright. And so it will show us little cancers that can’t
be seen any other way. But I ought to say, you can’t just get the MRI, and the reason
is, is because it will miss the earliest form of breast cancer shown by mammography and
calcifications. There’s a new technology called 3-D mammography,
or also called tomosynthesis, and it’s something that we’ve just recently started offering
at Stanford. In the early clinical trials the data has shown that
this new technology decreases false positives and increases cancer detection regardless
of a woman’s breast density. The way that you take tomosynthesis is the
breast is compressed, and then you have extra pictures taken like this. The images will
produce little areas of pictures through the breast, so that we can see every little bit
of it, and it’s been shown in studies that tomosynthesis can increase the detection
of breast cancer by about 25 to 27 percent, that’s huge. Plus, it decreases the number
of false positives between 15 and 17 percent. Recommendations for screening are generally based on a woman’s risk for breast cancer. Various factors play into a woman’s
risk for breast cancer, including her age, her family history of breast cancer, family
history of ovarian cancer, her breast density, and then any genetically disposition to breast
cancer, such as a BRCA mutation. At Stanford, we’re gonna use all of our
technology, all of our research, all of our experience, to try and do our very best for
every woman to find breast cancer early and cure it.

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