Breast Cancer Screening

The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening

Did you know that last year, breast cancer was the second leading cause of death in women behind heart disease? Each year, over 250,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer. That means in the U.S. alone, one out of eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime. This simple factor makes it extremely important for women to consult with their doctor regularly about the subject. It is urgent, especially if there is a family history of breast cancer. However, as women get older their risk of developing breast cancer increases. That’s why it’s so important for all women to get themselves an annual breast cancer screening.

Breast Cancer Screening Tests

The best way to reduce the chance of death from breast cancer is to undergo regularly scheduled breast cancer screenings. Standard breast cancer screenings include breast ultrasounds, clinical breast exams, breast MRI’s, and mammography. The reason for such an extensive set of tests is so cancer can be found as fast as possible. The earlier the cancer is found, the better the patient’s chances are of survival. No matter what age or ethnicity, breast cancer screenings are absolutely necessary. If caught in an early enough stage, the cancerous cells can be removed. However, if cancer spreads to the nearby tissue and becomes uncontrollable, then the patient is going to have to go through systemic treatments. This is when they start treating the cancer cells with chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other targeted drugs.

Clinical Breast Exams

Physicians will ask many questions pertaining to your health history. Additionally, they will ask questions about your menstrual cycle patterns and pregnancy history. Most doctors will want to perform the breast exam after your menstrual period ends for a more accurate test. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, breasts become tender and swollen making it harder to detect any unusual changes. Once the exam begins, you will undress from the waist up. The doctor will examine your breast, looking for any change in size, shape, or symmetry. During the examination, one will be asked to lift their arms over their head. After the doctor examines a patient in that position, the patient will be asked to put their hands on their hips and lean forward for further inspection. The doctor will be looking look for any skin changes like rashes, redness, or dimpling.

While you’re laying on your back with your hands behind your head, the doctor will then examine your breasts. Meanwhile, the doctor will also inspect the area under both arms for lumps with the pad of his/her fingers. Then, they will gently press around your nipple to make sure there isn’t any discharge. If there is any secretion, a sample will be collected for further examination under a microscope.

Breast Ultrasound

Breast Ultrasound

Breast Ultrasound

If there are any abnormalities during the clinical breast exam, then the patient will most likely get a breast ultrasound. These screenings are often used to examine any change in the breast, such as a lump. Anything large enough to be felt but can’t be seen with other screenings can be found with a breast ultrasound. A breast ultrasound is extremely useful because it can tell the difference between solid masses that could possibly be cancerous or cysts that are filled with fluid.

Breast ultrasounds can even help guide a doctor during a biopsy. With the ultrasound equipment, they are able to extract any infected cells with a microscopic needle for further testing. Ultrasound is a very useful tool when it comes to a patients safety because it doesn’t expose them to any radiation. In fact, ultrasound is actually powered by sound waves, these waves are sent to a nearby computer where a picture of the inside of the breast is taken. The sound waves pick up the echoes as they bounce back from the body tissues. This makes the procedure a very simple and painless process.

Mammography

Breast Mammogram

Breast Mammogram with arrow indicating a breast cancer in the right breast

A mammography exam is a process in which they use low energy X-rays to further inspect the human breast. This is where they take X-ray pictures of the breast, and that picture is called a mammogram. Doctors will use the mammogram to look for early signature signs of breast cancer. These mammograms have the greatest chance of locating cancer in the earliest stages. Most women find that having a mammogram done is uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. The process begins with a radiologist standing you in front of an X-ray machine and placing your breast on a clear panel. Another panel will then come done from above pressing firmly, nearly flattening the breast. The slight pain only lasts a few seconds while the picture is taken. Each person’s experience is a little different, all depending on the skill level of the radiologist, the size of the breasts, and how hard they have to press. This is another exam that should be avoided if you are about to get or have your period.

Breast MRI’s

Breast magnetic resonance image MRI

A Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses strong magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of the breast in detail. This can be an alternative to mammography. However, this screening test is more likely to be used with women who have already been diagnosed. They use this machine to measure the exact size of the cancerous area. This MRI machine is just like any other. The only thing that’s different is that instead of laying on your back, you lay down on your stomach, placing your chest on the dedicated breast coils. As your breast hang suspended in the opening of the table the MRI will begin. Instead of radiation they use very powerful magnets to make a very detailed image of the area in question. The process isn’t painful at all, unlike a mammography. The only problem a person may encounter is if they have any metallic objects located in their body. If that is the case then they need to consult with their physician before this test.

Why it’s so Important to Screen for Breast Cancer

Screening for breast cancer is something every woman over the age of twenty should do on a yearly basis. Like it was explained before, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. That’s why is so important to check as often as possible because when a person ages the possibility of developing breast cancer increases. This cancer can be beaten if caught early enough, so always keep up to date with your appointments and make sure you have that next screening marked on the calendar.