For dense breasts, 4 screening options after mammograms

Mammograms are the first step when women are on the lookout for breast cancer. But for some women, especially those with dense breasts and who have a special risk according to family history, additional screening might make sense.

NPR outlined the options for screening beyond mammograms.

The choices include ultrasound, which can work well for women who have dense breasts, NPR reported. They can see cancers that mammograms might have missed in those women. But the method can also lead to move false positives, which can be medically, emotionally and financially costly.

MRIs can be useful, but also expensive and can be medically more invasive. Tomosynthesis is sort of like a 3D mammogram, according to NPR. It might improve detection rates overall, but there isn’t much difference in its performance when measured against experienced radiologists. Plus, it could expose women to slightly higher radiation doses. Molecular breast imaging is less expensive than MRI and works for women with dense breasts, but it could expose parts of the body besides the breast to radiation.

The takeaway message: There is no exact answer for extra imaging beyond mammograms.

Even with these possibilities, the best option for some women is to rely on mammograms alone and forgo any additional tests, according to organizations such as the New England Comparative Effectiveness Public Advisory Council. That’s because they can increase false positives that require biopsies or uncover minor cancers that might have gone on to be harmless anyway.

Experts say more research is needed to understand which types of non-mammogram screening help prevent breast cancer deaths, if any. But such studies would be expensive and take a long time, so the information is still elusive for now.

Check out NPR for further explanation of the risks and benefits of breast imaging after mammograms.