Threre are a lot of new techniques being investigated, but thus far, nothing to replace mammography as a mass screening tool. Ultrasound can be very helpful for women with very dense breast or fibrocystic breast disease, as ultrasound will tell you if a lesion is solid or fluid filled. Mammography will not. Ultrasound is generally ordered as a follow-up to a mammogram, but in my opinion, for women with dense breast tissue, it should be used all the time. Mammography just does not image dense breasts well- the breast tissue obscures any possible masses unless you have a really excellent imaging system and a super radiologist.
One thing I heard about at a conference recently that sounds promising is called ductual lavage- a very thin catheter is inserted into one of the milk ducts through the nipple, then "washed" out with fluid to obtain a sample of the cells that hang out in the ducts. Since the most common BC is intraductal, theoretically, if you had very early stages of malignancy, the sample would contain some of those malignant cell. This could technically be used as a screening tool someday, and not require the interpretations of radiologists whose opinions often differ. I don't know how fun having a catheter put in a milk duct would be, though!!
MRI can be helpful, too, though I don't know a lot about it. I know that it is the only way to image the entire breast in a woman who has breast implants. It's the only way you can see the tissue behind the implant against the chest wall.
Thermography detects malignant areas in the body by measuring the amount of heat coming out of the tissue. Malignant cells typically grow rapidly and demand a large vascular supply to support themselves, generating more heat than normal tissue. That's about all I know about that! Not done at many centers at this point.
It always ticks me off when they have these little bits on the news about how there's some new technique to replace mammography. They talk for 30 seconds about it and fail to mention that it's not approved by the FDA, only available in two hospitals in the nation, not appropriate for screening, etc etcetc.
Then every patient the next day wants to know if we have the new equipment they saw on the news.
Mammography has its many limitations and is definitely not a pleasant exam- and believe me, I've worked with some techs that are a little bit on the sadistic side. However, it really is our only way to image very early breast cancer. It's the only radiographic modality that can image the very fine calcifications that form along the ducts when cancer first takes hold. It doesn't stop breast cancer or reduce the rate, but it can detect it a lot earlier, and that's what saves lives. There's a huge difference between a stage I tumor that only requires a lumpectomy and minimal radiation and a more advanced tumor that has spread to the lymph nodes, requiring possible mastectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy. I've seen it many, many times and lost a co-worker that waited too long to get a lump checked out.
Cancer is scary and everywhere anymore. In my opinion, our entire environment is toxic and affecting us all on a cellular level. Our air is polluted, our water is polluted, our food full of additives, our household products full of chemicals. All you can do is live the healthiest life possible. I think some people are more succeptible than others- how else can you explain the 90 year old woman who has lived on a diet of red meat and cigarettes, while the 30 year old organic-eating health nut dies of cancer?
There's so many variables living in this world- environment, genetics, diet.
Sorry for the long post!! I love talking about medicine but hate working in the field! I didn't realize how much I wrote....