Breast Cancer Screening Tests: What You Should Know

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Update Date 07/10/2020 . 4 mins read
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Breast cancer treatment is most successful when it is diagnosed and treated in its earlier stages. Knowing how to check the signs of early breast cancer through the help of breast self-exams and breast cancer screening tests are critical to overcoming the disease. 

In the Philippines, the number one cancer affecting Filipinas is breast cancer, followed by cancer of the cervix uteri, colorectum, lung, and ovary. In 2018, it was reported by the Global Cancer Observatory that breast cancer accounted for 31.4% of new cancer cases in women, totaling around 25,000. Despite it being a highly treatable disease, many women still lack the information to detect its symptoms accurately. 

What is Breast Cancer? 

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the breasts. The two main types are:

  • Ductal Carcinoma occurs in the tubes that channel breastmilk.
  • Lobular Carcinoma begins in the surrounding mammary lobes.

Breast cancer mostly affects women, but there have been cases of this type of cancer developing in men, though it is quite rare. 

While a dangerous disease that can end in fatality, breast cancer is highly treatable. Many cancer survivors can live long, fulfilling lives. It is crucial to detect the early signs of breast cancer. Doctors can diagnose the disease accurately using breast cancer screening tests. If doctors can confirm cancer in the earlier stages, then chances for survival are higher.

How to Detect Breast Cancer?

Women usually detect the first signs of breast cancer through a self-breast exam, which entails cupping the breast and feeling for any irregular lumps or dimples. Women’s breasts are different and unique and change as they  age, so it is encouraged that women regularly do a self-exam to get a feel of what is “normal.” 

Most lumps are harmless and may appear and disappear on their own throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle due to changing hormones. Most have benign causes. But to be sure, it’s best to consult your doctor and undergo breast cancer screening tests if necessary. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

But women should always take note of changes in their breast, which may point to other serious conditions. 

Here are some symptoms of breast cancer: 

  •     Lumps that grow hard
  •     Thickening of tissue that is different from the rest of the breast
  •     Changes in the breast in terms of texture, contour, and even temperature 
  •     The nipple becoming inverted 
  •     Clear, bloody, or colored discharge from the nipple
  •     Burning/ hot sensation
  •     Itchiness
  •     Swelling
  •     Pain

If you have any suspicions about lumps and changes in your breast, consult your doctor. 

breast cancer screening tests

What Are Some Tests that Help Detect Breast Cancer? 

After a physical exam, and to make a more informed and accurate diagnosis, your doctor may request you to undergo a few breast cancer screening tests to confirm the condition. 

These may include: 

Mammogram

This is usually one of the first breast cancer screening tests requested by your physician. The mammogram uses X-rays to capture an image of the breast and identifies any calcification points. Mammograms, when applied to diagnose breast cancer accurately, can help reduce mortality by 30%. Women over 40 years of age are encouraged to undergo a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. 

In some cases, women do not experience any symptoms or do not see any physical changes in their breasts, especially in the early stages of breast cancer. Thus, mammograms can help detect even the smallest of changes in the breast tissue.

Breast Ultrasound

Unlike mammograms that use X-rays, this method uses high-frequency sound waves to capture the image of the breast. When the sound waves pass through or bounce off breast tissue, it creates an image that helps detect any suspicious growths. It can help determine the nature and size of a tumor. This ultrasound method is one of the most preferred breast cancer screening tests used by doctors and patients, because it is non-intrusive, painless, inexpensive, and is safe for all ages. It is safe, even for pregnant women. It also produces results faster.

Breast MRI

Breast magnetic resonance imaging, also known as breast MRIs, uses more sophisticated technology and provides more detailed information about the breast tissue, lesions, and tumors. Its sensitivity is higher than M-rays, making it one of the effective breast cancer screening tests for diagnosis.

Aside from being more expensive than the other exams, breast MRIs are often only recommended when screening women with higher than average risk.

Biopsy

To determine whether a lump is benign or cancerous, the doctor may request a biopsy. The biopsy entails getting a sample of breast tissue that lab technicians will then analyze. A specialized needle will remove core tissue from the suspected area. Usually, a breast biopsy is an outpatient procedure. 

Biopsies are highly beneficial breast cancer screening tests as they provide key information about the type of cells in breast cancer and can help determine the aggressiveness of cancer. A biopsy can also help provide other critical information that doctors need when putting together a treatment plan for you. 

Radioisotope Imaging of Breast Cancer (FDG-PET)

This method helps locate a tumor or a cluster of tumors before an operation. This is more sensitive than X-rays and provides more detailed information that can help in the treatment and removal of tumors or lumps in surgery.  

Though it uses radiation, it is a very low dose, with a half-life of six hours. This is considered very safe for patients. 

Key Takeaways

Breast cancer screening is crucial in diagnosing breast cancer. Breast cancer is a highly treatable disease that has a high survival rate. According to a study, the average 5-year survival rate of women with invasive breast cancer is 91%, while the 10-year survival rate is 84%. If the cancer is limited to only the breast, then the 5-year survival rate goes up to an impressive 99%. 

What is key to successfully overcoming breast cancer is early diagnosis and treatment. Appropriate breast cancer screening tests can help in this regard.

Learn more about Women’s Health, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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