The gold standard in screening for breast cancer, the traditional two-view x-ray technique, is coming under fire. While it may find cancer, it doesn’t measure risk - detecting some pre-cancers, like cells that are contained within the milk duct and have little chance of evolving.
“What they’re probably talking about is low grade Ductal Carcinoma in Situ and some people think that is over treated and it might be. You don’t know for sure it would ever turn into cancer, an invasive cancer, that might kill someone,” says Dr. Gail Santucci, diagnostic radiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
But doctors aren’t discounting the value of a mammogram.
“Our whole goal really is to find cancer before it’s detectable by feeling a mass. So if we can see something on the mammogram that’s abnormal and find out it is cancer it’s typically easily treated with minimal surgery and oncology and treatment,” says Dr. Santucci.
More recently the FDA approved a second breast cancer screener; adding ultrasound to the arsenal. It may help doctors get a read on more difficult cases or give another perspective on dense, hard to read tissue.
“Ultrasound uses ultrasound which is a completely different technology using sound waves instead of x-rays and so it just has the ability to kind of travel differently through the tissue and provide you with a different view. We use it a lot of times when someone has a spot they can feel because we can directly target that area to look and see if there is a mass there,” says Dr. Santucci.
Finding cancer early is not a fix, but gives doctors a starting point to evaluate the disease and it’s prospects.
“A lot of the early stage cancers we find are from seeing those calcifications on mammograms,” says Dr. Santucci.