The Imperfect Screening Technology for Breast Cancer

Image of a mammogram machine. No people in the image.

Imagine the sheer anxiety of waiting for your mammogram results to come in only to realize that it is not conclusive and that more tests need to be done for a breast cancer diagnosis. The screening for breast cancer is so limiting due to the resolution of the imaging we use today, and can sometimes lead to false negatives and false positives.

A false negative, when the breast cancer is not detected, occurs in about 1 in 5 breast cancers. This situation commonly occurs for dense breasts, which can be present in women who are young, have a low body mass index, or take hormone therapy for menopause. On a mammogram, the fatty or non-dense breast tissue will appear dark and transparent, while the dense breasts will appear white. The white regions on the image make it difficult to see through and note any abnormalities. This is why supplemental testing is needed, such as 3-D mammogram, breast MRI, breast ultrasound, and molecular breast imaging.


A false positive result, on the other hand, is when the image looks abnormal despite no cancer present. It is astounding how common a false positive result is — according to the American Cancer Society, half of women who take a mammogram over a ten year period will have a false positive at least once. This causes a lot of unnecessary stress, time, and money to do further tests, only to ultimately realize there is truly nothing to worry about.


The urgency of having the technology that we currently lack is supported by the following statistic — CDC states that breast cancer is the second most leading cause of cancer death for women overall, and affects 245,000 women and 2,200 men in the United States annually. Breast cancer accounts for 15% of all cancer deaths among women. However, not all hope is lost yet, and incidence rates can go down with current advancements in research. U.K researchers have recently stated that a blood test to detect breast cancer can be available by 2025 if the research and development are fully funded. The University of Nottingham is currently holding trials to test the efficacy of the blood test, by comparing the immune system’s response to tumors in individuals with breast cancer versus a control group without the disease. The university has obtained samples from 800 patients to test nine markers, through which the accuracy of the test can be improved.


Until we have ways to better diagnose breast cancer, it is important to stay well informed about the guidelines for breast cancer screening. American Cancer Society recommends women ages 40-44 to start breast cancer screening if they wish to do so, women ages 45-54 get it done annually, and ages 55 and older to switch to mammograms every two years or continue to do so annually. If you have any questions or concerns regarding screening, we recommend you speak to your healthcare provider to discuss what is the best thing to do for you.


El Camino Women’s Medical Group offers the latest Minimally Invasive Solutions for gynecologic problems.   Drs. Amy TengErika Balassiano, and Pooja Gupta, all members of AAGL (American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopy) are highly trained and experienced in the field of Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery.   Dr. Erika Balassiano has also completed a Minimally Invasive Gynecologic Surgery Fellowship, under the supervision of world-renowned Dr. Camran Nezhat.


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