A mammogram can help detect breast cancer long before any symptoms occur and even well before a lump can be felt in the breast tissue. This can help treat breast cancer early and increase survival rates dramatically. Mammograms won’t find lung cancer or any other types of cancer, though.

However, the same screening methods that have made mammograms so successful could be used to make lung cancer screenings more common. Using mammograms as a model for how lung cancer screening is handled in the future could help reduce lung cancer fatalities.

A mammogram is used to screen for breast cancer or help make a diagnosis when breast cancer is suspected.

Images of the breasts are taken from multiple angles to look for abnormalities in the breast tissue. Mammograms don’t show your lungs. According to 2015 research, there have been a few reported cases of mammograms spotting the edges of a lung tumor, but this is very rare.

However, health experts believe that the success of mammograms as a breast cancer screening tool could be used to encourage similar screenings for lung cancer.

One study found that mammograms significantly reduce the odds of dying from breast cancer. It’s likely that similar screening programs for lung cancer could also result in a reduced lung cancer fatality risk.

A lung cancer screening can be performed with a CT scan that allows doctors to view the inside of your lungs to look for tumors and abnormalities.

There are currently initiatives to see if mammogram-type programs could be put in place for lung cancer screening. A 2021 study suggests that mammograms and lung cancer screenings could be tied together after asking people who received mammograms questions to determine their risk of lung cancer.

People who had mammograms and were found to be at a moderate-to-high risk of lung cancer could then be offered a lung cancer screening. Hopefully, people who are open to receiving mammograms will be open to receiving lung cancer screenings as well.

The only type of cancer mammograms are used to detect is breast cancer. However, they can detect signs of breast health that go beyond the masses and lumps that can indicate breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. These include:

  • Microcalcifications. These are tiny deposits in the breast tissue. They’re typically not a cause for concern. However, when microcalcifications are present in certain shapes or patterns, they might need further examination.
  • Cysts. These aren’t normally cancerous or reason for further testing. In some cases, your doctor might want to perform a biopsy to ensure the fluid-filled cyst is not cancer.
  • Breast density. This measures the ratio of fibrous and glandular breast tissue to fatty tissue. Breasts are considered dense if they are high in fibrous and glandular tissue. Dense breast tissue can put you at a slightly higher risk of cancer but is not considered abnormal.

You can see some examples of how cancer might appear on a mammogram in the images below.

Breast ultrasounds show the inside of the breasts. They use sound waves to make a clear picture of breast tissues and can produce images of masses and cysts that mammograms can miss. However, like mammograms, they do not detect lung cancer.

Getting called back for further testing after a mammogram can be alarming, but a suspicious mammogram doesn’t always mean you mean have breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, less than ten percent of people called back for further testing turn out to have breast cancer.

It’s more common to be called back after your first mammogram when doctors don’t have previous mammogram images to compare your results against. You’re also more likely to be called back if you have dense breast tissue or if you’re under 50.

Although anyone can get breast cancer, the current recommendations for breast cancer screenings are based on the risks for cisgender women. This is because while it is possible for cisgender men to get breast cancer, it is relatively rare.

Until recently, very little information was available about breast cancer and the transgender community. Medical experts are just beginning to study the effects of gender-affirming treatments, such as taking testosterone, on the risk for breast cancer.

Studies still need to be done to provide accurate numbers and risk levels for breast cancer in the transmasculine and gender nonconforming communities.

The University of California, San Francisco currently recommends that transgender women who have been taking hormones for at least 5 years follow the breast cancer screening guidelines for cisgender women and begin receiving mammograms at age 50.

Transgender men who have not had surgery to remove their breasts are advised to continue to follow the breast cancer screening recommendations for cisgender women in their age group. Transgender men who have had a full mastectomy do not need to have mammograms.

A CT scan is used to test for lung cancer. Currently, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends lung cancer screening for anyone who meets all three of these qualifications:

  • has smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for at least 20 years or at least two packs a day for 10 years
  • is a current smoker or has quit within the past 15 years
  • is between 50 and 80 years old

If you meet these qualifications, talk with a healthcare professional about arranging a lung cancer screening. Medicare and other insurance providers will cover the cost of screening in most cases.

If you don’t meet the qualifications but are concerned about your risk for lung cancer, ask a healthcare professional about your screening options.

Breast cancer support groups

It’s important to have support when you’re managing cancer. A support group is a great way to connect with other people who have breast cancer and understand exactly what you’re going through.

Here are some great options for breast cancer support:

  • You can contact ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis to receive one-on-one support from a breast cancer mentor.
  • Both online and in-person support group meet-ups take place through Breasties, a community dedicated to breast and gynecological cancers.
  • You’ll find support groups as well as educational material in English, Spanish, and Japanese when you visit SHARE.
  • The American Cancer Society is available with both phone and online support 24/7.
  • The unique struggles of young adults with breast cancer are discussed in support groups offered by the Young Survival Coalition.
  • You can find community with fellow back women with breast cancer through support groups organized by the Sisters Network.
Was this helpful?

Mammograms have been shown to reduce the risk of death from breast cancer, but they cannot detect lung cancer outside of very rare cases. Advocates of early lung cancer screening would like to see similar programs in place for the early detection of lung cancer.

Lung cancer can be found with the help of a CT scan before symptoms appear, and early treatment could result in better survival outcomes. Currently, lung cancer screening is recommended for smokers who are between 50 and 80 years old.

It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about your risk of lung cancer and ask about getting a lung cancer screening.