Improving Breast Cancer Detection, a History of Mammography

Women today know when they get to their 40s, it’s time to start getting mammograms. This exam can detect breast cancer long before symptoms appear when the disease is most easily treated. But while this exam has become a vital part of our care, it’s a relatively new development.

Although breast cancer has been around for centuries, there was no accurate way to diagnose it until just a few decades ago. Now, mammograms save lives.

The stage for modern mammography was set with the development of X-ray technology in 1985, but it would be decades before it was adapted for use in breast health.

1913 – Breast cancer was diagnosed based on symptoms and the only treatment was surgery. German surgeon Albert S1913alomon made the first leap toward modern day mammography when he began studying the X-rays of women diagnosed with breast cancer and tissue from their mastectomies. He determined the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous tumors and discovered that there were multiple types of cancer.

Keypunching_at_Texas_A&M2The late 1950s
– There was a growing sense in the medical community that X-rays could be used in the routine diagnoses of breast cancer. Robert L. Egan, a doctor at MD Anderson in Houston, TX, with a background in engineering was charged with developing breast imaging technology for the hospital. He and his colleagues took films of 1,000 women who did not have obvious cancer in a physical exam. Amazingly, they identified 238 cancerous masses, confirming the potential of the technology.

1960s womenThe 1960s – Although it was clear that X-ray could be used to diagnose breast cancer, it wasn’t clear what role imaging should play in medical care. Dr. Phillip Strax, whose wife died of breast cancer, conducted the first large-scale controlled study of women to measure the role of mammograms in reducing deaths. The results, published in 1966, demonstrated conclusively for the first time that a screening mammogram could find breast cancer at a stage early enough to save lives.


The 1970s – New treatments including radiotherapy and were introduced, putting a greater emphasis on detecting breast cancer. In 1976, the American Cancer Society recommended mammography as a breast cancer screening tool.

Breast-Cancer-Awareness-Month-ImagesThe 1980s – The use of radiotherapy and chemotherapy became more widespread, contributing, along with increased screening, to a reduction in cancer-related deaths. October was first dubbed Breast Cancer in Awareness Month in 1985 as a way of encouraging screening and raising funds for research and treatment.

2000 — Digital mammography was introduced as an alternative to film. These images could be stored in a computer, magnified, transferred and corrected for under or over exposure without having to obtain another image.

2011 – An advance in imaging, 3D mammography, won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Studies show patint at ella healththat this new technology increases the rate or cancer detection while reducing the number of women called back for false positives. Until 3D, mammography involved taking two images, one from the top down and the other from side to side. With 3D, multiple images are taken and then compiled into a model that allows doctors to better see the structure of the breast. The American College of Radiology declared it to be an advance over digital mammography and urged its widespread use.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: