Mammography and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are the most proven ways to detect breast cancers with imaging.
Although other imaging tests are being used or studied to screen women with dense breasts, doctors at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) do not routinely recommend them for most women because none of these other tests have been proven to save lives.
These are the most common screening tests you may hear about other than mammography and breast MRI:
- Screening ultrasound: Ultrasound is an excellent tool to better look at a lump or a suspicious area found on a mammogram. But it is generally not as useful for screening women who do not have symptoms. That’s because it causes many more false alarms (suspicious areas that turn out not to be cancer) compared to the number of actual cancers it detects. At SCCA, we use screening ultrasound mainly for women who are at high risk and cannot have an MRI due to other medical issues.
- Molecular breast imaging, including breast-specific gamma imaging (BGSI) (also called scintimammography) and positron emission mammography (PEM): Compared to mammography, these technologies expose women to higher radiation doses, which may carry health risks. Though some centers already offer BGSI and PEM, more research is needed to determine how we should use these tests.
- Abbreviated or FAST MRI: This shorter version of breast MRI may help detect cancer in women with dense breasts when used along with mammograms. We are actively studying this technology to determine who might benefit.
- Contrast-enhanced mammography: Injecting a contrast agent into your bloodstream before your mammogram might help detect cancer. The contrast agent, which lights up in the image, collects more easily in areas with unusually high blood flow, like tumors. We will be studying this type of test.
- Thermography: SCCA does not offer thermography examinations, in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation against its use as an alternative to mammography.
SCCA experts constantly assess the latest scientific evidence about the best ways to screen for breast cancer. We also perform research into breast cancer detection, offering leading-edge imaging clinical trials to eligible patients.
Learn more about breast cancer screenings you might need.