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Cancer Screening Recommendations: Breast Cancer Screening

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 8/12/2010

Breast cancer screening comes in many forms including mammography and genetic testing. However, you may be wondering if these screening tests are recommended. Find out what the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends for routine breast cancer screening.

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    Introduction

    In this article, you'll learn about the preventive screening guidelines for breast cancer, including recommendations on genetic mutation screening, mammography, and preventive drug therapies used to combat breast cancer.

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    BRCA1 and BRCA2 Breast Cancer Screening

    Genetic mutations are responsible for the formation of cancers in both men and women. In women, it is possible to detect some of these mutations through genetic screening. Some breast cancers and even ovarian cancers are associated with mutations in the genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has two recommendations on screening for mutations of these genes. In women without a family history of breast cancer, the task force does not recommend BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Even if a woman is found to have such a gene mutation, it does not mean she will definitely develop breast cancer. Additionally, finding such a gene mutation can prompt women into taking preventive measures such as having double mastectomies or using chemotherapy as a preventive treatment. The risks of these procedures far outweigh the benefits associated with detection of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation. In women with a family history of breast and ovarian cancer, the task force does recommend testing for mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Discovering mutations would allow women to take preventive measures such as receiving genetic counseling or undergoing preventive medical procedures and treatments.

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    Mammography as a Breast Cancer Screening Tool

    Mammography is a diagnostic screening tool that is used to detect the presence of tumors that may be cancerous. This test involves compressing the breast tissue and taking several different pictures. Film mammography is still used in many hospitals and clinics, but digital mammography is becoming more popular because it allows technicians to immediately see the pictures being taken. If pictures are unclear or a different view is needed, the technician can take additional pictures at the time of the test instead of making the patient wait while films are reviewed. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women over the age of 40 get mammograms every year or every two years, in combination with a clinical breast exam. Evidence shown that mortality related to breast cancer is reduced for women who get regular mammograms and are able to have breast cancer diagnosed early.

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    Preventive Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

    Some women receive chemotherapy as a preventive treatment for cancer rather than a treatment once a diagnosis of cancer has been made. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend this type of treatment for women who have a low to average risk of breast cancer because of the damaging effects of chemotherapy on the body. However, women who are at a highr risk for breast cancer may be able to reduce their risk of getting cancer by undergoing preventive treatment with Tamoxifen or other chemotherapy drugs. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does recommend preventive medication in cases of high cancer risk.