Mammograms get all the attention when it comes to breast cancer detection. And there is good reason for that, as research supports its diagnostic benefits. There are a few additional tests, however, that may help provide an even broader picture of your breast health.
Mammograms by themselves do not prevent breast cancer, but they help detect it. And the earlier breast cancer is caught (e.g., self-exam, mammography) and treated, the higher a woman’s chances of survival.
Mammograms are not foolproof — they fail to detect approximately 1 in 8 breast cancers.1
Other potential drawbacks of mammograms include the annual exposure to ionizing radiation, a known carcinogen,2 and the possibility that a breast tumor has been growing for several years before it is picked up on a mammogram.3
Also, many women find the mechanical pressure on breast tissue from the X-ray machine too painful.4,5
- Both mammograms and MRIs can deliver false results — negative and positive.
- Radiation from frequent mammograms may fuel BRCA-related cancers, as radiation causes DNA damage.6
- The mechanical pressure on breast tissue (approximately 40 lbs.) is not only extremely painful, but it could theoretically rupture existing tumors — according to one published review, it only takes 22 lbs. of pressure to rupture a cancerous tumor’s encapsulation.7
On the plus side …
One of the top advantages of mammography is its ability to detect masses and tiny calcifications that are often present in abnormal tissue areas. These calcium deposits often appear in spots with chronic inflammation, a potential precursor to cancer. Other detection methods do not show these micro-calcifications.
Is there another imaging method that complements mammography?
Yes, thermography. Also called thermal imaging, this noninvasive, 100-percent safe procedure works by measuring infrared heat waves emitted from breasts. That’s because cancerous breast cells are usually hotter than normal cells. Therefore, this screening tool can be useful in the early detection of physiological patterns that are associated with breast cancer (or that lead to breast cancer later in life).8
I have recommended thermography as an additional tool in my practice. I use it to help with early detection of breast cancer, as well as to evaluate the efficacy of treatment protocols.
Thermography is a dynamic physiological assessment, which means it often reflects improvements in systemic patterns such as estrogen/progesterone imbalances. Similar critical changes are not generally seen in mammography.
Keep in mind that thermography is not a substitute for mammograms.
Breast ultrasound is another non-invasive method of assessing breast tissue. Sound waves are used to detect the difference between a cystic (or fluid-filled) “mass” and a solid mass. Cystic masses are most often benign. A solid mass is usually benign but can also be malignant. In this case, further testing is needed.
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, uses electromagnetic imaging techniques rather than radiation to view breast tissue. An MRI is highly sensitive and has a higher false-positive rate than does mammography, potentially leading to unneeded biopsies.9
Other Tests That Can Assess Your Risk of Breast Cancer
Vitamin D levels — Your level should be in the range of 70–90. If not, take supplemental Vitamin D3. (Work with a holistic practitioner who can help you decide how much to take for your situation.)
Hormones profiles — Hormonal imbalances can contribute to increased breast cancer risk. Around the time of menopause, some women have excess estrogen production, which can increase breast cancer risk.
Estrogen metabolism — Urine tests offer a doorway into the internal workings of your body’s ability to break down hormones. Genetic mutations and nutrient deficiencies often result in problems with breaking down hormones properly, thus increasing your breast cancer risk.
Thyroid function — Low thyroid levels are associated with increased breast cancer.10
Iodine levels — This can be checked with a simple urine test. Iodine concentrates in breast tissue and is often deficient in our western diets.
Preventive Chemo and Surgery for Breast Cancer
While you might expect preventive chemotherapy or surgery to be 100% effective in preventing breast cancer, they are not. Even women who undergo both to avoid breast cancer can still get the disease. And the preventive surgery can include the removal of both breasts and ovaries, which can have devastating emotional effects.
Reducing Your Risk
People with BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations are at an increased risk of breast cancer. About 50 out of 100 women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will get breast cancer by age 70 years old, versus seven out of 100 women in the general U.S. population.11
The cause of most breast cancers is still unknown — though research points to several other influencing factors.
Some of these factors cannot be changed, such as your gender, increasing age, a personal or family history of breast cancer, menstruation before the age of 12, and menopause after 55. But many of them are avoidable, which means that you can do something to decrease your risk of breast cancer even if you have a strong family predisposition.12,13
One of the leading environmental risk factors is exposure to ionizing radiation (mentioned above). This includes x-rays, uranium, radioactive materials, and nuclear waste. Similarly, emerging research suggests that pesticides such as glyphosate (Roundup weed killer) and estrogen-mimicking compounds (xenoestrogens) may promote cancer cell growth, just as prolonged estrogen exposure would. Xenoestrogens can be found in certain pesticides, fuels, detergents, and plastics.14,15
Synthetic and animal-derived forms of postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are also known risk factors for breast cancer, as are obesity, smoking, and excess alcohol consumption. So, if any of these risks apply to you — and even if they do not — regular self-examinations and breast cancer screenings are still absolute musts.16
Lastly, certain nutrients offer extra protection for optimal breast health, hormone balance, and overall well-being. Some well-researched ingredients to consider: concentrated extracts such as anti-inflammatory turmeric and hormone-balancing DIM, immune-supportive medicinal mushrooms, and super nutrients such as quercetin that help promote breast health and safeguard long-term wellness. These ingredients tend to be more beneficial when combined into one formula because of their synergistic qualities.