With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, individuals are more inclined to pause and reflect on the countless women who have and still are courageously fighting, against this disease. These fighters each have a story, full of highs and lows that come with the war of cancer against humanity. It’s only when a friend or family member has lost their battle against breast cancer that the question is asked: What could they have done differently to increase their chance at survival and victory? A rather beneficial approach is to know the enemy, to remain one step ahead of the cancer. The best way to do this is to annually participate in breast cancer screening.
The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening
Breast cancer screening requires examining a woman’s breasts for cancer prior to the appearance of signs or symptoms of the disease. Finding breast cancer in its early stages and immediately beginning the process of treatment are the most important strategies to prevent deaths from the disease. Breast cancer that is found early, when it is small and has not spread, is easier to treat effectively. Getting routine breast cancer screening tests is the most reliable method in finding the cancer early.
Different Types of Breast Cancer Screening
When it comes to breast cancer screening, there are various tests and exams that could prove to be advantageous. While these screening methods may differ in procedure, they all have the same goal, aid in the treatment and defeat of breast cancer. Common approaches used in breast cancer screening are breast self-awareness, clinical breast exams, mammograms, breast biopsies, and breast MRIs.
Just women are familiar with the face they see in the mirror every morning, they should also be familiar with their breasts. Being familiar with the way their breast look and feel can help them recognize symptoms such as pain, lumps, or changes in size that may call for some concern. Any concerning changes should be reported to a doctor or health care provider. While breast self-awareness is an important health precaution to take, daily breast self-exams do not decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer.
Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)
This breast cancer screening method is a physical exam performed by a health care provider, often during a regular medical check-up. A trained health care provider begins by carefully feeling the breasts, underarms, and the area just below the clavicle (breastbone), for any changes or abnormalities. The health care provider should also visually inspect the breasts from a sitting up position and physically examine them with the patient lying down. Like the breast self-exam, the clinical breast exam does not lower the potential risk of dying from breast cancer.
Mammograms are low-dose x-rays of the breasts. They play a significant part in early breast cancer detection and help in decreasing the number of deaths due to the disease. The procedure for a mammogram is as follows:
- The breasts are compressed between two firm surfaces, allowing the breast tissue to spread out.
- An x-ray captures black-and-white images of the breasts, one from the top, and a second from the side.
- The images are then displayed on a computer screen and examined by a doctor who searches for signs of cancer.
Mammograms are not perfect. Studies suggest, mammograms may miss about 13 percent of breast cancers and sometimes, a woman will need more tests to determine if something found on a mammogram is or is not cancer. The development of 3D mammography has considerably improved the outcomes of this breast cancer screening method.
3D mammograms are fairly like the traditional 2D mammogram, though the former is far more accurate in earlier breast cancer detection than the latter. 3D mammography works by capturing various slices (images) of the breast from different angles, creating a 3D breast image. This allows for a much clearer detail to be seen, which helps in making an accurate diagnosis.
Breast biopsies are usually performed when further tests are needed to determine whether an abnormality is cancerous. A breast biopsy provides the doctors with a sample of tissue, which they use to identify and diagnose abnormalities in the cells that make up breast lump, or other unusual breast changes.
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields to create an image of the breasts. Typically, breast MRIs are used in breast cancer screening for women at higher risk than average risk. Breast MRIs can also be used in breast cancer diagnosis and staging. Common biopsy procedures include:
- Fine-needle aspiration
- Ultrasound-guided core biopsy
- Stereotactic biopsy
- Open excisional biopsy
Talk to Your Doctor
The team at Triangle Physicians for Women is here for you in all stages of your life and are committed to providing you with comprehensive care during these uncertain times. That includes providing necessary health screenings to our patients. For more information or to schedule an appointment to talk to your doctor about breast screenings call the office at (919) 678-6900.