Breast Cancer Screening – The Essential Facts
Breast cancer screening is one of the most important ways to catch cancer early. If breast cancer can’t be prevented, early detection is the next best way to approach the threat of breast cancer. This involves breast cancer screening.
Breast cancer is the result of abnormal cells forming a tumor in the breast. It can sometimes be found as a result of a woman conducting a self-examination of her breasts. It is recommended that all women do this once a month.
A tumor might also be discovered on a routine trip to the doctor. If a woman finds something suspicious, she should also go to the doctor. The doctor can conduct a clinical breast exam. Based on the findings o that exam, they may request further tests. One of them may be a screening of the breast known as a mammogram.
Mammograms use small amounts of radiation to scan breast tissue and determine if there is anything irregular that might indicate cancer is present. Keep in mind that there are many benign, that is, harmless reasons for a breast to change, such as cysts.
The benefit of screening is that if breast cancer is found early enough, it will have less chance to spread, and therefore be more curable. Early detection can lead to a better prognosis, or outcome. Therefore, in addition to confirming whether or not there might be a lump in the breast, mammograms are also used for regular screenings as part of breast cancer prevention.
Current screening guidelines
The current screening guidelines at the American Cancer society are as follows:
Women ages 40 to 44
They should be given the option to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms, which are x-rays of the breast, if they wish to do so. There is some risk involved with the radiation from x-rays, so some women may not wish to have a mammogram, in which case, they should consider other options.
Women age 45 to 54
They should get mammograms every year.
Women 55 and older
They should have every 2 years, or can continue yearly screenings if they wish if they are especially concerned, such as due to a history of breast cancer in the family.
Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health, and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
These recommendations are based on the fact that most breast cancer cases are found in women over age 40 to 54, the years of perimenopause and menopause, that is, around the time a woman’s period’s stop and she goes through full menopause. Menopause is defined as periods having stopped for 1 year.
The Pros and Cons of Mammograms
There are a number of pros and cons to mammograms.
• Early detection of cancer
• A baseline to compare to with follow up tests
• Radiation exposure, which could lead to cancer rather than prevent it
• False negatives-cancer is present, but not reported, potentially leading to advanced breast cancer
• False positives-cancer is not present, but reported, leading to unnecessary treatment
The reason for these last 2 cons is that mammograms are fairly reliable diagnostic tests, but they have to be administered and interpreted by human beings, who can make mistakes.
It can be difficult given the nature of the varying sizes, shapes and density of some women’s breasts. The breast tissue is pressed between two glass plates, which can be uncomfortable. If a woman moves during the scan, her results may not be clear.
The machine also has to be calibrated correctly to get a clear result. Once the scan is taken, it has to be interpreted by a person. A newer radiologist may not have the skill compared to a more experienced one.
But it is generally safe and effective, and of great benefit to high risk women who have breast cancer in their family.
For the latest screening guidelines issued, visit: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/BrowseRec/Search?s=breast+cancer+screening