Breast Exams

After the age of forty, every woman should receive an annual mammogram.

Fortunately, there are effective ways for women to detect breast cancer early, while it is most treatable.

This page contains an overview of the following topics:

Breast Self Examination

One option that women can do themselves is a monthly Breast Self Examination. It doesn't require any equipment, just a little time each month.

Clinical Breast Examination

Women should also get a thorough breast examination annually by their gynecologist or health care provider. Tell your health care provider if you notice anything different about your breasts.

If you'd like hands-on instruction on how to perform a Breast Self Examination, your healthcare provider can show you.

Mammograms and Other Imaging Exams

The initial imaging exam to check for breast cancer is a mammogram.

There are imaging exams that provide a radiologist with detailed images of the breast tissue. The radiologist examines the images, looking for abnormalities that may indicate cancer.

The initial imaging exam to check for breast cancer is a mammogram. This is enough for most women. However, if something abnormal is seen on your screening mammogram, your radiologist will want to perform an additional test to determine the cause of the abnormality. There are several reasons why a mammogram can have an abnormal result. It is usually not cancer.

When studying your annual mammogram, it is very helpful for the radiologist to have previous mammograms available for reference. If your past mammograms were not done at an Invision Sally Jobe imaging center, we highly recommend that you bring your past mammogram images with you to your appointment.

Following are the exams used to image the breast:

Digital Mammogram

A mammogram is the initial imaging exam used to screen the general population of women for breast cancer. Mammogram images show variations in breast tissue that can help a radiologist identify abnormal tissue. Screening mammography is recommended for all women every year beginning at age 40. Although mammograms, like many medical exams, are not 100% accurate, they are the best imaging method available today for finding breast cancer early.

If your screening mammogram shows abnormal tissue, your physician may request a diagnostic mammogram or another exam listed on this page. A diagnostic mammogram uses the same technology as a screening mammogram, but obtains more images of the breast.

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3D Mammograms

A 3D mammogram uses low dose x-rays to create a three dimensional image of the breast. This is a new, recently FDA approved technique for breast cancer screening. Invision Sally Jobe was one of thirteen centers nationwide to participate in a large 3D mammography study. The results, which were recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, confirm that it finds more invasive cancers then conventional mammography and it reduces unnecessary callbacks. However, the conventional mammogram is still considered the best exam for breast cancer screening for most women.

Breast Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to image the breast. A breast ultrasound is usually performed to further analyze an abnormality seen on a mammogram. This is known as a diagnostic targeted breast ultrasound. They are also used to image lumps that can be felt. Breast ultrasounds can help determine the need for a biopsy or additional testing.

Breast ultrasound can also be used as a screening method in addition to screening mammography. During screening breast ultrasound, a technologist, assisted by a computer-guided mechanical arm, will uniformly guide an ultrasound probe in a series of rows over your breast.

Breast MRI

A breast MRI is performed on women who have a suspicious breast lump or have been told they have breast cancer. It can help determine the best type of surgery by showing the extent of the cancer. At Invision Sally Jobe, we use a type of MRI called VIBRANT that can image both breasts during a single appointment.

A breast MRI may also be used on women who may need additional imaging after a mammogram and/or breast ultrasound are done. This would be determined by the radiologist and your physician. Breast MRI is currently not recommended as a screening exam for the general population of women. It may be helpful in patients with a strong family history of breast cancer.

Breast Biopsy

A breast biopsy removes a small amount of the abnormal breast tissue for analysis by a pathologist. Breast cancer cannot be definitively identified unless a biopsy is performed.

There are now non-surgical biopsy techniques that allow for a reliable diagnosis with much smaller tissue samples. Some of these minimally invasive biopsy techniques were developed by Invision Sally Jobe radiologists and have been accepted for breast biopsies nationwide.

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Effectiveness of Screening Exams

Performing a Breast Self Examination (BSE) regularly is important. 90% of breast lumps are found by the woman herself (80% of lumps turn out to be benign).

It’s also important to get a mammogram. They are an important screening tool in finding breast cancer early and can detect lumps before they can be felt. Mammography has been shown to decrease mortality (death) from breast cancer if done annually in women who are 40 and older.

The following chart illustrates the importance of performing regular BSEs and getting mammograms annually. Women who adhere to these guidelines find breast lumps when they are significantly smaller, while the cancer is most treatable.

This chart illustrates the sizes of lumps that are found through various breast exam types.

Exam Frequency Guidelines

Following are the general guidelines for the frequency with which women of different ages should get breast screening exams.

  Teens to Age 40 Age 40 and Older
Breast Self Examination Monthly Monthly
Clinical Breast Examination Annually Annually
Mammogram Only if you have a first degree relative with breast cancer* Annually, beginning at age 40

* If you have a first-degree relative with breast cancer, begin annual mammography 10 years prior to her age of diagnosis or at age 40, whichever comes first.

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