Breast Cancer Screening

Risks With Breast Cancer Screening Tools

Decisions about the tests used to screen for breast cancer can be difficult. Not all tests are helpful, and most have risks. Before having any screening test, you may want to discuss it with your doctor. It is important to know the risks of the test and whether it has been proven to reduce the risk of dying from cancer.
 
The risks of breast cancer screening tests include the following:
 
  • No impact on life expectancy
  • False-negative findings
  • False-positive findings
  • Radiation exposure.
     
Finding breast cancer may not improve a woman's health or help her live longer.
 
Screening may not help you if you have fast-growing cancer or if it has already spread to other places in your body (metastasized). Also, some breast cancers never cause symptoms or become life-threatening, but cancer may be found on a screening mammogram and treated. It is not known if treatment of these cancers would help you live longer than if no breast cancer treatment were given, and treatments for cancer may have serious side effects.
 
False-Negative Findings
Breast cancer screening test results may appear to be normal even though the disease is present. A woman who receives a false-negative test result (one that shows there is no cancer when there really is) may delay seeking medical care, even if she has symptoms.
 
One in five cancers may be missed by mammography. False-negatives occur more often in younger women than in older women because the breast tissue of younger women is denser. The size of the tumor, the rate of tumor growth, the level of hormones -- such as estrogen and progesterone -- in the woman's body, and the skill of the radiologist can also affect the chance of a false-negative result.
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