by Dr. Carla Garcia, D.O.M.
“I am so confused about mammograms and breast screening, that I just don’t do anything. I don’t even check my own breasts because I don’t know what to feel for and I don’t know what to do if I do feel something. Besides my breasts are always lumpy.” If any of this self-talk sounds familiar to you, this article will help you to understand the different types of breast screening.
Thermography and mammography are two different technologies that detect different characteristics of breast tissue. There is absolutely no risk from thermography and it’s effective on all types of breast tissue; dense, fatty, breast implants and breasts of all sizes (big or small). Images include the area below the neck, the breast tissue itself and the underarms. It detects the increase in blood flow that accompanies cancer or other breast conditions, but it cannot pinpoint the exact location of a tumor. Slow-growing cancers may not produce enough heat to be detected by thermography.
Mammograms use X-rays and compression to detect dense areas within the breast tissue. The risk associated with mammograms comes from radiation and compression. X-ray images of only the breast tissue that can be compressed in the machine are taken. It is effective for fatty breasts and micro-calcifications, but not as effective for imaging dense breast tissue and can be painful for women. It may miss the fast growing cancers that are accompanied by changes in blood flow.
Ultrasound uses sound waves to bounce off of dense areas within the breast tissue. There is little risk, but it is mostly used when an area of density has been pinpointed on a mammogram. The sound waves detect whether dense areas are fluid-filled or solid masses. Self-breast exams check for any nipple retraction, secretions or lumps that are hard, rough and immovable.