Answers to frequently asked questions about breast cancer screening not covered in the other sections can be found below.
Can women with small breasts get breast cancer?
Women with breasts of all shapes and sizes are at risk of developing breast cancer.
Do men get breast cancer?
Although men can develop breast cancer, less than 1% of all breast cancer cases in Canada occur in men. Men, like women, are encouraged to be breast aware and talk to their healthcare provider about any unusual breast changes. Based on data from the Alberta Cancer Registry, there were 24 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Alberta men in 2019 compared to 3,691 cases in Alberta women.
Can having a mammogram cause breast cancer or cause an already existing cancer to spread?
Mammograms need very small doses of radiation. Research confirms that the risk of harm from mammography radiation exposure is very low. The benefits of earlier breast cancer diagnosis and treatment far outweigh the risk of the small dose of radiation received during a mammogram.
Is a monthly self-exam the best way to find breast cancer early?
It’s important for women to know how their breasts normally look and feel – from the whole area of breast tissue up to the collarbone and including the armpit. While you don’t need to have a strict method for checking your breasts, talk to your healthcare provider right away if you notice any unusual changes. Learn more about when to get screened.
Do mammograms catch EVERY breast cancer?
Mammograms can miss up to 10% of breast cancer. That’s why it’s so important to go for screening mammograms regularly and to let your healthcare provider know if you notice any unusual changes in your breasts. Having dense breasts can also make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram. Learn more about breast density.
Do antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer?
Several studies have been done about the link between antiperspirants and deodorants and breast cancer. So far there is no reliable evidence that they increase the risk of breast cancer. Avoid wearing deodorant containing aluminum when you go for a screening mammogram. The aluminum can show up on the mammogram images and can make breast cancers and other abnormalities harder to find.
Does cell phone use cause breast cancer?
Currently, there’s no definite link between cell phone use and increased risk of breast cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded in 2011 that radio frequency fields, such as those from cell phones, may cause cancer but more research is needed before this can be confirmed. If you’re concerned about cell phone use and the possible link to cancer:
- Reduce the amount of time you use a cell phone or consider texting instead of talking.
- Use a headset instead of holding the phone next to your ear.
- Don’t carry your cell phone next to your skin (for example, in your bra).
Does wearing an underwire bra cause cancer?
No research shows that wearing an underwire bra increases your risk of breast cancer.
Is thermography a good breast cancer screening tool?
There is no evidence that breast thermography is an effective screening tool for finding breast cancer early. Breast thermography finds differences in skin temperature on the breast with the use of a special heat-sensing (infrared) camera. It is based on the idea that tumours can be detected by the warmth caused by increased blood flow.
Breast thermography isn’t approved by the United States Federal Drug Administration (USFDA) or Health Canada for use in breast cancer screening. In Canada, thermography equipment isn’t licensed for sale for breast cancer screening because of the lack of evidence about its effectiveness. Thermography is not covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan. Learn more from Health Canada about recall and safety alerts.
Currently, screening mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early when treatment can work better.
Are tomosynthesis and digital mammography the same thing?
Digital mammography (sometimes shortened to 2D mammo) takes 2 x-ray images of each breast during a screening exam. Tomosynthesis (sometimes shortened to Tomo, DBT, or 3D mammo) takes x-rays of the breast, like a digital mammogram. However, this newer technology takes multiple pictures from different angles, making a 3D-like videos of the breasts.
Can tomosynthesis be used instead of mammography for breast cancer screening?
Tomosynthesis isn’t recommended for breast cancer screening on its own. It’s sometimes added (supplemental) to digital mammography during screening. As tomosynthesis takes more pictures, it may provide some additional benefits to mammography done without tomosynthesis. People at higher risk of breast cancer may benefit more when tomosynthesis is added. However, this should be based on overall risk and not just on one factor, such as breast density. Talk to your healthcare provider about your personal risk for breast cancer.
There are several risk assessment tools listed above that you can use to assess your risk for breast cancer. Keep in mind that supplemental tomosynthesis is still being studied to see if it’s an effective screening tool for population-based screening programs. It isn’t clear yet if people have better outcomes (for example, if they live longer when breast cancer is found earlier) when screened with tomosynthesis in addition to digital mammography.
Will the COVID-19 vaccine impact my mammogram result?
There have been some recent reports of an uncommon occurrence that receiving the COVID-19 vaccine just prior to having a mammogram may slightly increase your chance of getting a false positive (being called back for more testing when you do not actually have breast cancer). As a result, your provider may ask about your recent COVID-19 vaccination history when you book your mammogram. They may also suggest you book the mammogram appointment 4-6 weeks after your COVID-19 vaccination, as there is a chance you may experience some side effects, such as large lymph nodes in one or both arm pits.
If you’d like to read more information about this, you might want to check out these articles:
Should I get screened for breast cancer with the new blood test I’ve been hearing about?
You may have heard about a new blood test by Syantra DX to help screen for breast cancer. At this time, the test is not recommended as part of breast cancer screening. If you’re interested in this test, here are a few things to be aware of:
1) It is experimental. The test is still in clinical trials and data on how well it works is only inferred based on early results.
2) If you’re between the ages of 45 and 74, you still need to get a screening mammogram. The blood test is not meant as a substitute for screening mammography. Any statistics about its effectiveness are based on having both a screening mammogram and the blood test.
3) The test is not covered as part of your Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan.
Remember, screening mammograms are still the best way to screen for breast cancer and they are covered as part of your Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan.
Why did you change the guideline to start screening at 45 years old instead of starting at 50 years?
The recommendation was made based on new evidence in the literature, epidemiology of breast cancer in Alberta and simulation modeling outcomes using Alberta data. It was determined that the benefits of breast cancer screening outweigh the potential harms for women aged 45-49.
Eligible women, transgender, gender diverse, and non-binary people have always had the choice to start breast cancer screening from age 40 years in Alberta. Click here to learn about the benefits and risks of mammograms.