Which Post-Cancer Screen is Best?

You've won the war against cancer's invasion. Now you're ready to fight back before it comes back. Check out these 5 screening methods to protect yourself from the return of cancer.

The most common diagnostic tool for breast cancer, this x-ray machine compresses each breast and makes an image of it.

Time: Each view takes less than three seconds, but setup and review of the film stretch most appointments to 30 minutes.

Frequency: The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends scheduling your first post-treatment mammogram no earlier than six months after radiation ends. After that, annual mammograms are typically scheduled.

Pros: "Mammograms save lives," says Julie Gralow, MD, associate professor of medical oncology at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Oncologists and even health insurers say these machines detect tumors too tiny to be felt by touch, and theoretically can catch cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage. Mammography also can pick up calcifications that an MRI might miss.

Cons: Tumors are harder to detect in women with denser breasts, including those who are under age 50, premenopausal, or taking hormone replacement therapy. "But mammography remains the best tool we have," says Constance D. Lehman, MD, PhD, radiology professor and breast imaging director at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. "So keep on getting them!"

Approximate Cost: $150-$200

Insurance: Most insurers pay for breast cancer survivors' mammograms.

Success Rate: Numerous screening studies show mammography catches 80 to 85 percent of cancers in the general population. In screening trials, the false-positive rate of the initial round of mammography was 3 to 6 percent (that is, a specificity of 94 percent to 97 percent). The risk of false positives is that a patient might undergo unneeded anxiety, testing, and possibly treatment.

Availability: Wide

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