With tens of thousands of women being diagnosed with breast cancer each year, it is critical that women stay informed and up-to-date on the latest breast cancer screening methods. Sure, we’ve all heard about the importance of getting our annual mammograms, and we all cringe and cradle our breasts at the thought! But what if we told you there are additional breast cancer screening tests beyond the traditional mammogram?
Good news, ladies! There are in fact other breast cancer screening tests—tests that are safe and painless, no less! Below we’ve broken down some breast cancer screening options that you may not have heard of. Or maybe you’ve heard of them but you’re not quite sure what the deal is or if they’re safe. Here is the breakdown of three breast cancer screening options that every woman should know about.
Option #1: Breast Ultrasound
A breast ultrasound is just like any other ultrasound you might have had. It is the use of soundwaves to create an internal image of your breast. It works as a technician slides a wand over some gel on your breast. But don’t worry, ladies, it’s no longer the old school freezing gel. There are gel warmers now that make it nice and toasty!
A radiologist will review your ultrasound results and will look for any lumps or masses in the breast that may be cancerous tumors. This test is especially beneficial for women with dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue makes it very difficult to see cancer on a traditional mammogram. The cancer doesn’t stand out on a mammogram the way it does on an ultrasound. This means that breast cancer is often missed when women with dense breast tissue rely on mammograms as their only screening tool.
Ultrasounds are painless and free of radiation, which makes them safe for pregnant and nursing women. They work on all kinds of breast tissue including dense tissue, fatty tissue, and even breasts with implants.
Option #2: Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound (AWBUS)
Going a step beyond the traditional handheld ultrasound is the Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound. The AWBUS was invented in 1999 by board-certified radiologist Dr. Kevin Kelly of the Breast Ultrasound Center in Pasadena, California. So what is an AWBUS and how is it better than a traditional ultrasound? Here’s the breakdown:
- Automated: eliminates technician error and provides consistent results
- Whole Breast: captures images from under the arm/lymph nodes, sides of the breasts, between the breasts, and above the breasts
- Ultrasound: a safe procedure using sound waves and no radiation
Dr. Kelly’s AWBUS is more thorough than a traditional ultrasound. While it has not yet been approved to replace an annual mammogram, it was approved by the FDA in 2012 as an additional screening tool to detect breast cancer. It is especially important that women with dense breasts and breast implants take advantage of additional screening tools such as the AWBUS as mammograms are especially inconclusive and painful for women with dense breast tissue and breast implants.
Option #3: Breast Thermography
Breast thermography is the use of thermal imaging to take a picture of the temperature of your breast tissue. Breast thermography can spot changes and variations in the temperature of your breast tissue. Some changes and variations in temperature may indicate the presence of abnormal cells like cancer. The changes that breast thermography detects in the breast tissue can sometimes detect cancerous conditions before a tumor has even formed! This is a huge advantage over mammograms which often miss cancer that has already formed. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, about 20% of mammograms being used to screen for breast cancer miss cancers that have already developed at the time of screening.
Breast thermography was approved by the FDA in 1982 and has been used as a breast cancer screening tool for decades. It is radiation free, painless, and can be used on all types of breast tissue, including dense tissue, fatty tissue, and breast implants.
While these breast cancer tools have been approved as additional screening methods, they are not yet recommended as replacements for an annual mammogram. But if we speak up, spread the word, and talk to our doctors, we can work to raise awareness of these safe, painless breast cancer screening options.