The debate continues on when women should have mammograms for breast cancer screening. Advice and recommendations from reputable groups such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) are discussed in this article.
My question is who is looking in the future? Finding a single, perfect tool in detecting breast cancer is a tall order. But there are some new techniques in the pipeline. Here are a few:
1. Magnetic Resonance Elastography- Breast tumors are “stiffer” than healthy breast tissue. This test would measure the stiffness of breast lumps by using Ultrasound and MRI. Problem: Not widely available to the public and too expensive.
2. Handheld Scanners- Sends near-infrared light through the skin and into the breast and measures how the light energy scatters through the body. Light photons travel differently through tumors than healthy tissue. Problem: May be best as a follow-up tool to measure whether tumors have shrunk after treatment.
3. Simple blood or breath test- This sounds the best. The goal is not only to identify cancer, but to be sensitive enough to indicate how dangerous it is likely to be.
So for now, there is no simple tool that identifies all women who have cancer, is reasonably noninvasive, not very inexpensive and widely available. But research is being done.
For now, talk to your doctor or practitioner, who hopefully knows you well. Listen to your intuition. Do breast exams and be pro-active. There are tests that you can do. Many integrative practitioners can evaluate estrogen metabolism, genetic polymorphisms (Genomics), and hormone imbalances. These tests, as well as thermograms are risk assessment tools to help determine if you are at higher risk for breast cancer.
Stay tuned for different, and hopefully better breast cancer screening tests to come.
Reference: Shute, N. The Science of Health. “Beyond Mammograms”. Scientific American, May 2011, p.32-34.