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In 2005, more than 211,000 American women will be inflicted with breast cancer, and more than 40,000 women will die from the disease. An August 2005 study showed that breast cancer rates are improving because of better treatments and early detection. While there are more breast cancer cases being diagnosed every year, there are fewer deaths, and the study showed that breast cancer tumors found today tend to be smaller than in the past.

Early Detection

According to Elena Elkin of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the study had a clear message "“ the increased use of screening mammography has been able to pick up smaller tumors. A U.S. cancer registry for data on the size of newly found breast cancers from 1975-1999 shows smaller tumors accounted for more breast cancer cases as time went by for all stages of breast cancer.

Mammography has been considered the gold standard for detecting breast cancer, especially at an early and potentially curable stage. Mammography has been proven to reduce breast cancer deaths, but more research is needed to find more accurate ways of detecting cancer at the earliest stages possible. The first national guidelines on mammography were issued in the late 1970s, but despite all the efforts to increase awareness in all women over 40 years old, only about 65 percent get screened when they should.

The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast exams by a doctor for all women in their 20s and 30s and annual screening mammograms for women aged 40 and older. The University of Pennsylvania is conducting a study trying to individualize breast screening, aiming to see who needs an MRI, ultrasound or even some of the new experimental techniques like light waves or electrical resistance of the breasts. For some women, especially those at a very high risk for getting breast cancer, mammography is not always able to find the cancer early enough to make a difference.

Sentinel BreastScan

Films and imaging have made significant improvements in recent decades and have helped detect cancers earlier. In August 2005, Infrared Science Corporation announced it completed a $2.1 million Series B Preferred Stock financing, acquiring the capital necessary to continue introducing Sentinel BreastScan, a systems utilizing infrared imaging and proprietary software employing artificial intelligence techniques.

The systems are designed to be used as an adjunctive test with mammography, ultrasound or clinical examination for the early detection of breast cancer. The FDA approved, non-invasive touchless procedure provides immediate results, but the Sentinel BreastScan is not intended to replace mammography or ultrasound or stand alone as a single test. Breast infrared imaging is capable of detecting the first signs that cancer may be forming up to 10 years before any other procedure can detect it.

As researchers continue to study what tests should be used on what women, mammography remains the best choice for breast cancer screening for the vast majority of people.