Cora's doctor found a tiny growth in her right breast when she
was 55 years old. To determine whether it was cancer, he inserted a small tube
inside her nipple to extract cells for study under a microscope.
The results were inadequate, so he asked her to come in for
another visit. This time, she was given anesthesia so he could surgically
remove the suspicious tissue for examination.
By Hilda Hutcherson, M.D.
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Much to Cora's relief, the lump turned out to be benign, but
recalling the whole process is enough to make the now 61-year-old tax auditor
"The nipple thing was very painful," she says,
associating the unpleasant experience with other cancer-screening procedures
she considers torturous, such as the mammogram, which involves placing one
breast at a time on a cold device then flattened for filming.
Still, to this day, Cora, much like many of her peers,
diligently subjects herself to such tests. Why?
Many shake it off as a small sacrifice for peace of mind. After
all, women have a one in eight lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. The
disease is the second leading cause of cancer death in females after lung
Yet medical visionaries are hoping women won't have to be
martyrs for long. While mammography is still widely regarded as the gold
standard for detecting malignancies, an array of new or improved technologies
is now on the horizon -- using magnets, electricity, sound waves, and cellular
biology as screening tools.
Some methods promise to make breast cancer screening more
comfortable for women. A number pledge greater accuracy and fewer false
positives. Still others are whispered to be borne out of entrepreneurial
motivations. Doctors dream of someday being able to take a simple blood test to
learn if a woman has breast cancer, or will develop it in the future. Some even
hope tests will let them tell a woman when she will likely develop breast
cancer, and what can be done about it.
But word on the scientific street is that such diagnostic
wizardry will not be available anytime soon. What can you do in the near
future? Here are newly improved or experimental screening techniques that may
help you screen for breast cancer soon.
Improving Familiar Devices
The mammogram is the best tool for breast cancer screening at
the moment. With about 85% accuracy, the X-ray device has spotted even
malignancies that are too small to touch, ultimately saving many women from
suffering and death.
But there's always room for improvement, and several groups are
in hot pursuit of the next major screening method for breast cancer.