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Breast Cancer Early Detection


When breast cancer is detected early and treated promptly, suffering and ultimately the loss of life can be significantly reduced. Women are encouraged to ask their doctors and other health care providers about mammography screening. Mammography (and x-ray picture of the breast) is the single most effective method to detect breast changes that may be cancer, long before physical symptoms can be seen or felt. For early stage breast cancer, there are more treatment options, treatment can be less disfiguring and less toxic and survival is improved.

As women age, their risk of breast cancer increases. For most women, high-quality mammography screening should begin at age 40. As risk factors vary in everyone, each woman and her doctor should discuss the plan that's right for her. Most organizations recommend screening every one to two years, some recommend it take place every year. Screening should continue throughout a woman's lifetime.

In addition to the use of mammography, health care providers should also examine a woman's breasts, called clinical breast examination (CBE), as part of routine health care to search for any abnormalities that may be missed by mammography. Breast Self Examination (BSE) may alert a women to any changes in her breasts, but it is not a substitute for mammography screening. The value of BSE is that it helps a woman become familiar with how her breasts normally feel and to notice any changes.

Is Mammography Reliable?
In 1992, the U.S. Congress passed the Mammography Quality Standards Act to ensure that mammography performed at more than 10,000 facilities throughout the country is of high quality and reliable. To lawfully perform mammography, each facility must prominently display a certificate issue by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). This certificate serves as evidence that the facility meets quality standards. You can order the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's booklet, Things to Know about Quality Mammograms, at no charge, in English or Spanish, by calling (800) 358-9295. Information for health care professionals is also available.

National Mammography Day -  USA
The third Friday in October each year is National Mammography Day, first proclaimed by U.S. President Clinton in 1993. Each year on this day, or this day, or throughout the month, American College of Radiology (ACR) Radiologists at accredited facilities provide discounted or free screening mammograms.

For more information, please contact Pam Wilcox, Assistant Executive Director, ACR at (800) 227-5463 (USA only).

Side note: Check our Resources Pages  for links to information about Mammography in your country.

What Should Women Expect When the Have a Mammography
A woman who still menstruates should schedule the mammogram for one week after her menstrual period beings, when the breasts will be the least tender. Women are asked to avoid using deodorant and lotions on the day of the mammogram and should wear two-piece clothing to make undressing more convenient.

A specially trained radiologic technologist will perform the mammogram. The woman will be asked to undress from the waist up only and stand next to the x-ray machine. Two flat surfaces will compress one breast first, then the other for a few seconds. Compression is necessary to produce the best pictures using the lowest amount of radiation possible.

Is Mammography Screening the Only Way to Detect Breast Cancer?
Mammography screening remains the best available method to detect breast cancer early. However, no medical test is always 100 percent accurate and mammography is no exception. Research is under way to improve the technology to lead to better accuracy and to create new technologies.

For more information about mammography screening, please refer to the American Cancer Society website at

Side note: Check our Resources Pages  for links to information about Mammography in your country.

Information on this page has been, in large part, reproduced, with permission, from NBCAM (supported by an unrestricted educational grant from AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation).





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