Harvard Women's Health Watch

Breast cancer screening: Options beyond the mammogram

The mammogram remains the foundation of breast cancer screening, but variations on this test can improve detection for some women.

The mammogram isn't a perfect test, but it's the best one we have right now for identifying breast cancers early, which is why it remains the cornerstone of breast cancer detection. "For the woman at average risk for breast cancer, it is the only proven screening test," says Dr. Robyn Birdwell, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and section head in the Division of Breast Imaging at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

A traditional mammogram produces an x-ray image of the breast on film, which the radiologist reads to look for changes that might be cancerous. But newer variations on the test may improve on its ability to detect cancer.

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