Any woman who has successfully overcome and survived breast cancer will tell you about the importance of early breast cancer detection. We discuss how to go about detecting breast cancer early, while it is still in a more treatable form.
Know your risk factors
Certain lifestyle factors predispose a woman to breast cancer: smoking, alcohol intake, sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diet and being obese are among those. Iodine deficiency, not having had children or not having breast fed and higher hormone levels are also risk factors. Breast cancer detection is also more common among women who have a personal history or family history of breast cancer. Fibrocystic breast changes are also seen to increase risk.
Know your Symptoms
It is a lump that feels different from the rest of the breast that alerts a woman to breast cancer which is usually the first symptom of breast cancer. Statistics show that more than 80% of detection of breast cancer is due to the woman feeling a lump in her breast.
However women should also beware of any dimpling, puckering, nipple change or inversion which could indicate presence of cancer. Any kinds of nipple discharge other than lactation; whether clear, cloudy, bloody or otherwise, could be problematic.
In addition women should also be vigilant about detecting any other symptoms such as an orange peel like texture, warmth or redness of the breast, any itching, swelling or pain even if there are no lumps noted.
Methods of breast cancer detection
There are three main ways to detect breast cancer:
- Mammography or a mammogram is an X-ray like procedure that examines the breast tissue to detect any abnormality. Experts believe that this procedure which can detect breast abnormalities earlier than other methods, can help save lives and improve prognosis.
- Clinical breast exam by a physician or a gynecologist as part of a general health check up on regular basis can also help detect abnormalities.
- Breast self exam, though there are limitations to this procedure is also a useful tool for detecting breast cancer.
If breast cancer detection by any of the above means has come to light, further methodologies are used to confirm breast cancer or to make a definitive diagnosis of the disease. When a lump or abnormality is detected in the breast, doctors may recommend other screening and investigations to check if the abnormality is benign or malignant and then to check what stage the cancer is at, to determine treatment protocols and prognosis of the disease.
Ultrasounds, MRI and other imaging procedures may confirm the presence of a lump or other abnormality but the definitive breast cancer detection or diagnosis requires a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue from the breast tumor and its examination under a microscope. Biopsies may be image guided, surgical or performed by fine needle aspiration or core needle.
Once the material of the tumor is examined it can be determined whether it is invasive or not and treatment can be based on its findings.