If you’re a woman with dense breasts, you know that mammograms are painful. Large breasts were never meant to be squeezed until they feel like they’re about to burst.
Mammograms have another undesirable effect. They expose you to radiation (from the X-rays), which accumulates in your body. And any amount of exposure to radiation is dangerous.
But one of the most disturbing facts about mammograms, in my opinion, is that they’re not always accurate. Not if you have large breasts.
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic know this. They have been looking for an alternative to mammograms in women with dense breasts. And they’ve found one that’s more accurate. It is Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) and it doesn’t require any squeezing. What’s more, unlike mammography, MBI can tell the difference between tumors and dense breast tissues.
It also has some radioactivity. With MBI, instead of being blasted with X-rays, you’re given an injection of a radioactive contrasting agent, which accumulates more in tumor cells than in healthy cells. Then a technician uses a camera that detects radiation and it can see any tumors — even small ones.
These contrasting agents may have side effects. Patients (30% or more) have experienced lowered immunity, anemia, increased bleeding, weakness, fever, and nausea.
Still, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. MBI detected three times as many cancers in women with dense breasts as mammograms. That’s not all. There were fewer false positives.
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So which should you choose: mammograms or MBI? For now, the decision is easy. They’re using MBIs only in research. Researchers realized that the radiation from them is still too high — even though the dose of radiation is extremely low. But it looks promising for the future.
There is, however, a solution that is available. One with no side effects. One with remarkable accuracy. I’ve talked about it before many times. It’s breast thermography. This diagnostic tool takes a picture of heat patterns in the breast.
Heat can mean that cancerous tumors are sending out blood vessels to feed themselves. Or it could be a simple case of inflammation. A good diagnostician trained in reading breast thermograms can usually tell the difference. For more information on this safe method of detection, read the articles on my website — available to newsletter subscribers. Or go to www.breastthermography.org or www.breastthermography.com.
When MBIs do become available, you’ll be ready to talk intelligently with your doctor about breast screening options. As attractive as MBIs may seem, thermograms still get my vote.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand