Latest advances in breast cancer detection

October 13, 2008 5:44:48 AM PDT
Every three minutes, a woman in this country learns she has breast cancer. One in seven is at risk of developing it in their life time. And early detection remains the best weapon in this battle to save lives. "A woman who comes in with a small lump -- 90% chance of being here 10 years from now," said Elizabeth Marcus, M.D., breast oncology chairman, Stroger Hospital of Cook County.

Doctor Elizabeth Marcus sees nearly 300 new cases of breast cancer every year. She chairs the Breast Oncology Department at Stroger Hospital of Cook County. She says for the first time, we're seeing a decrease in the death rate in part due to better routine screening.

"Screening is somebody with no problems, no lump, I'm just getting routine exam before you can ever feel it," said Marcus.

Mammograms:

  • Once a year starting age 40
  • Mostly digital
  • Can miss 10% - 20% of breast cancer
And the standard for screening right now is still mammography, which is recommended once a year starting at age 40. Most hospitals now use digital mammography. But mammograms can miss 10 to 20 percent of breast cancer cases.

"You do have to know there are things that it doesn't pick up so if you have a lump in your breast and a normal mammogram you still need to have lumps investigated," said Marcus.

It happened to Good Morning America's Robin Roberts. Even after feeling a lump herself, a mammogram came back normal until an ultrasound confirmed a tumor.

Dr. Marcus says ultrasounds are helpful for women who have dense breast tissue.

"Ultrasound can tell you the difference between a cyst and a solid so it might see something the mammogram is too sense to see," said Marcus.

MRI:

  • For high risk groups
  • Follow-up to suspicious mammogram
  • Can spot small growths
  • More expensive
  • High rate of false positives
Another option is an MRI. For now, it is recommended only if you're in the high-risk group and as a follow-up to a suspicious mammogram. It holds promise for spotting small growths. But it's more expensive and has a higher rate of false positives.

"They pick up lots of stuff even stuff not cancer so as a screening tool for big population it's really a little much," said Marcus.

Other promising areas of research include chemoprevention to reduce the risk of breast cancer and a cancer vaccine.

But Dr. Marcus says the most important reminder is because of new research and new options, if you're ever confused or think something just isn't right ask.

"What this has done is it's meant that we as physicians have to explain more but also women have to take a role and ask the questions," said Marcus.

There is a free breast cancer workshop this Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Stroger Hospital of Cook County.

On Sunday, many of us at ABC7 will be taking part in the annual "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk." The walk raises much-needed funds to help cancer patients, survivors, and, of course, to fund research.


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