According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. The good news is finding breast cancer during its earliest stages provides more women with the opportunity to live a full and healthy life.
When breast cancer is detected early, there are more localized treatment options available. For example, minimally impactful treatments are often on the table and can help patients recover faster and experience a better outcome. But once cancer is detected during its more advanced stages, longer courses of treatment are usually necessary and outcomes worsen.
That is why breast cancer screening is so important. The American Cancer Society recommends average-risk women begin getting annual mammograms starting at age 40. Women at a higher risk for breast cancer may need earlier or more frequent screenings as well as additional imaging, including breast MRI.
Types of breast examinations:
- Self-exam: A breast self-exam can be performed once a month to familiarize yourself with your breast tissue. A good time to do this is while in the shower with an arm up over your head. Contact your provider if you notice any changes in your breast tissue.
- Mammogram: This x-ray technology is the gold standard for breast cancer screening. NorthShore University HealthSystem uses the latest in 3D mammography imaging, which provides higher-quality, higher-resolution images. These images allow us to better examine breast tissue and detect cancer at its earliest stages.
- Breast MRI: This imaging tool is often used in conjunction with mammography for patients at a higher risk for developing breast cancer (high risk is defined as a lifetime risk of equal to or greater than 20 percent). NorthShore University HealthSystem’s high-risk breast health evaluation program can help determine your risk for breast cancer. Breast MRI can also be used to evaluate the extent of the disease when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer or during breast cancer treatment.
- Breast ultrasound: This is a fundamental imaging modality that uses sound waves to penetrate the breast tissue. We use breast ultrasound for both screening and diagnosis. Forty percent of women we screen have dense breast tissue. Cancers can be more difficult to find in women with this tissue type using mammography alone. If a woman has dense breast tissue (determined by the breast radiologist upon interpreting a screening mammogram), automated breast ultrasound is performed in addition to mammography to find cancers that can be hidden on mammography.
The NorthShore Center for Breast Health is one of the first health systems in the country to utilize automated whole breast ultrasound for adjunctive breast cancer screening. This leading-edge technology allows providers to use sound waves to create 3D images of the breast, which helps improve detection rates for breast cancer when used with mammography in women with dense breast tissue.
NorthShore University HealthSystem also uses innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in clinical practice and through cutting-edge research to aid in patient management and assessment of risk.
NorthShore University HealthSystem takes pride in making the patient care experience our number one priority. I encourage all women with a normal breast cancer risk level to begin getting mammograms at age 40. They are the gold standard for breast cancer screening and getting one every year could be the very thing that saves your life.