Mammograms Vs. Breast Ultrasounds: Which is better for early detection?

Early detection is essential for effective treatment because breast cancer is one of women's leading causes of death. Mammograms and breast ultrasounds are two of the most popular ways to screen for breast cancer. The best option for you will depend on your specific situation as both tests have benefits and drawbacks..

The importance of early breast cancer detection

Early breast cancer detection can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of patients survive for many years after a diagnosis when breast cancer is detected at the early stages. It is important to go for an annual breast screening to detect any early signs of breast cancer. Finding breast cancers early with breast screening also means that more women being treated for breast cancer can keep their breasts.

What is a mammogram?


A mammogram is a type of X-ray that generates finely detailed images of the breast's interior. A radiologic technologist (radiographer) typically conducts the test, positioning the breast between two plastic plates and gently compressing it to spread out the tissue and improve imaging. Mammograms are frequently used as the first line of defence in breast cancer screening because they are quick and comparatively painless.

Just like any other medical examination or X-ray, a radiographer will perform the exam and a radiologist will review the results of your breast cancer scan by looking for signs of abnormality.

In general, there are two main types of mammograms: digital mammography in 2D and digital mammography in 3D (digital breast tomosynthesis).

Advantages of mammograms

  There are more treatment options and a higher chance of survival if breast cancer is discovered early. A woman's chance of survival in the first five years is 93% or higher if breast cancer is detected early.

  The price of a mammogram in South Africa varies depending on the facility and the kind of insurance you have. However, a mammogram typically costs around R2000 in  South Africa. 

What is a breast ultrasound?


Breast ultrasound is a type of imaging test that uses sound waves to view your breasts from the inside. Your healthcare provider may use it to identify breast issues. Additionally, it enables your doctor to assess how well the blood is getting to certain parts of your breasts. When a change has been detected on a mammogram or when a change is felt but not visible on a mammogram, this test is frequently used.

A transducer, which resembles a wand, is moved over your skin by the medical professional to create images of your breasts. The transducer emits sound waves, which your breast tissue reflects. You can't hear the sound waves because they are too high-pitched. The sound waves are then captured by the transducer. Images of the interior of your breasts are created using these.

There are two types of breast ultrasound. The most common is a conventional breast ultrasound where a health professional will use a handheld device called a transducer and then there is the automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) or automated whole-breast ultrasound (AWBUS). This uses a larger transducer to create a 3D ultrasound image of your entire breast.

Advantages of breast ultrasounds

A breast ultrasound is the preferred method of breast examination for women who are pregnant because it doesn't involve radiation.

Breast ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure. Following an abnormal result on a screening mammogram, breast MRI, or clinical breast exam, it is frequently used as a follow-up test.

The process could last up to 30 minutes. The procedure might only take five minutes if the sonographer or doctor uses an ABUS machine.

Ability to detect suspicious objects in breast tissue.

Mammograms Vs. breast ultrasounds

The best method for detecting, diagnosing, and treating breast cancer is still mammography.

But the detection of breast cancer is also a critical function of breast ultrasounds. Breast ultrasounds can aid in further assessing a suspicious mass that has been identified on a mammogram. 

At Well Women, we use both mammogram, inclusive of a breast ultrasound as the gold standard as both have positive indications. According to Dr. Sweidan, 50% of all breast cancers are not palpable of a lump and therefore the combination of routine mammogram and U/S is the method of choice for early detection.

Breast self -examination is vital as well but to be used with the routine screening.

Mammograms need to be done annually from the age of 40. Your doctor might advise you to get an ultrasound every year in addition to your mammogram, depending on the density of your breasts. If you want to keep an eye on your breast tissue more frequently and check for any changes in size and shape, you might need to have an ultrasound every six months.

Which is better for early detection of breast cancer?

In cases of breast cancer in particular, early detection can help save lives. You or a physician examines your breasts during a breast cancer screening to look for indications of the disease, such as lumps or changes in the tissue. The process of screening can take many different forms, from conducting a breast self-exam at home to having a nurse or doctor conduct a clinical exam while you're there. Mammograms are another tool used by doctors to check women for breast cancer. A diagnostic mammogram or breast ultrasound can sometimes aid a doctor in more thoroughly assessing changes in the breast tissue.

As a person ages, their chance of getting breast cancer rises. Cellular abnormalities are more likely to develop as people age. Women over 50 are most likely to develop breast cancer.

When weighing the advantages and disadvantages of screening mammography in older women, family history should be considered.

Dense breast tissue is not regarded as a disease or abnormality of the breast. However, breast cancer risk is increased by having dense breasts. In other words, women with dense breasts are more likely to develop breast cancer than those with fatty breasts. This risk is distinct from how dense breasts affect a mammogram reader's ability.