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"Will undergoing mammography tell me if I'm cancer free?"

ZocdocAnswersWill undergoing mammography tell me if I'm cancer free?

Question

I am 49 and a breast cancer survivor. Will a mammogram tell me if the cancer comes back?

Answer

I am sorry to hear that you had breast cancer, but am happy to hear that you are a breast cancer survivor! This is definitely a good question to discuss with your breast surgeon and or breast oncologist. I am obviously not familiar with the specifics of your medical history (and oncologic treatment history), and cannot therefore give your the specific information target to you personally that you deserve. I am happy however to give you some general information about mammography. Mammography is a technique that uses low-dose X-rays to examine the human breast. It has been proven an effective tool used in the early detection of breast cancers, particularly those that are radio-opaque (show-up on X-ray) or have microcalcifications (calcium crystals are hard, like bone, and therefore show-up easily on X-ray). While mammography is routinely used as a screening exam, it is not 100% sensitive or specific. Sensitivity refers to a testing modalities ability to pick up the disease process if present. Meaning in this case that there may still be a cancer present that the X-ray doesn't pick-up. This makes sense because not all cancers are radio-opaque, or have microcalcifications, or they are just too small to be picked up. Specificity refers to how accurate a test is, meaning that if it is positive, is the disease process actually present. In this case, not every radioopaque mass, or mass with microcalcifications is a breast cancer. This is why abnormal masses seen on mammography are usually biopsied to get a tissue diagnosis. The shortcomings or mammography are part of why the current recommendations are to perform regular self exams, and have a physician perform physical exams, in addition to regular mammography. I do recommend discussing this with your breast surgeon however. Best of luck. I hope this helps.

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