Although mammograms are currently the most effective means of detecting breast cancer, the tests are not always completely accurate. Therefore, all women should perform monthly breast self exams (BSEs) to increase their ability to notice something unusual in their breast at an early stage.
If a woman has been experiencing breast pain, tenderness, or discomfort, and a mammogram does not show breast cancer, this does not mean that the woman should assume that no medical problem exists. Mammography cannot reveal every breast cancer at an early stage. Also, mammography can sometimes arouse suspicion when no cancer is present (i.e.: a false positive result).
Researchers are currently looking for ways to improve the accuracy of mammograms. Alternative techniques are being explored to produce even more detailed pictures of the tissues in the breast.
Tests for tumor makers, or substances that may be present in abnormal amounts in the blood or urine of a woman who has breast cancer, are a promising alternative approach to screening. Presently, however, such biochemical tests are not available and remain experimental.