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Screening Dense Breasts for Cancer: Experience Matters

With nearly 250,000 American women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, the need for early screening is very clear. Many women heed their doctors’ advice and begin going in for routine mammograms starting around the age of 40 or so. That doesn’t mean, however, that this test is the only or best option for all women. For those with dense breast tissue, ultrasounds may also be ordered to find invasive cancers that mammograms cannot detect. The accuracy of this test does often hinge on experience, experts say.

Breast ultrasounds are non-invasive screening exams that enable doctors to more readily see beyond dense breast tissue. In New York State and a few others, laws have gone into effect that require healthcare professionals to notify women after mammograms if they have dense tissue concerns. Women, the laws assert, should be made aware of the fact mammograms may not detect all cancers in their cases. Notification is meant to help inform women of their options. For some, the ultrasound may serve as an effective screening tool.

In New York, where notification laws have been in place for a few years, ultrasound results are promising. The state has enjoyed an increase in detection rate and a reduction in the unnecessary biopsy rate. Researchers now say the value of ultrasounds is quite high in the case of dense breast tissue. Experience using the tool and reading the results has also improved outcomes of its use.

An estimated 40,000 American women die from breast cancer each year. Early screening is viewed as the lynchpin in the relatively high survival rate. All women are urged to speak with their healthcare providers about early screening. Should dense tissue be a concern, breast ultrasounds may provide a solution. The best screening advice will come from a physician with knowledge about an individual woman’s case.


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