The Importance of Early Detection with Breast Cancer
In many cases, the sooner a health problem is discovered, the more likely it is for the patient to have a better outcome or prognosis. This is certainly true of breast cancer. The earlier it is detected, the better the treatment and chance of a good outcome. The longer it has not been detected, the more chance it has to advance to the point where it can’t be treated effectively.
Detecting breast cancer early
There are a number of ways to detect breast cancer early.
Being breast cancer aware and checking your breasts once a month will help you establish a baseline of what is typical. Your breasts change throughout your monthly cycle, so check them a week before or week after your period. Report anything unusual to your doctor.
Clinical breast examination
Your doctor will have extensive experience in examining women for breast cancer. This exam should be part of your regular checkup. It might also be as part of a follow up visit with your doctor to confirm what you think you might have found during a self-exam.
Mammography uses small amounts of radiation to scan the breasts to try to detect any cell abnormalities, cysts or tumors. It can be part of a regular well-woman routine, along with other diagnostic tests. Or it might be recommended in order to follow up on something that might have been found during a manual breast exam.
Ultrasonography uses sound waves to bounce off the breast tissue. Any dense item such as a tumor will appear differently from the normal breast tissue.
Thermography creates a heat profile of the breast. Tumors appear in different colors from the other parts of the breast.
MRI of the breast
MRI, that is, magnetic resonance imaging, uses a magnetic field to detect changes in the body such as tumors.
A biopsy is a test in which a sample of suspicious breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. It is usually drawn out of the breast using a fine needles. Depending on the results of the biopsy, other tests and further examinations will follow.
Blood tests can sometimes indicated cancerous activity in the body.
Lumpectomy or mastectomy
If a lump is found, the doctor might remove it, or the entire breast. This will usually depend on the size and appearance of the tumor. The tumor will then be examined to determine the stage of the cancer.
In addition to the tumor, the doctor might remove one or more lymph nodes from the chest and/or the underarm of the affected side to determine if the cancer has spread to these important parts of the immune system.
In some cases they might also take a sample of the liver to see if the cancer has spread that far.
Staging breast cancer
Once the doctor has conducted all the tests and ruled out a tumor, or found a tumor, they will stage the breast cancer, that is, classify it. This is usually done with the TNM classification system:
M=Metastasis, or spread to the liver or other organs.
If the tumor is small, has not affected the lymph nodes and has not spread elsewhere, it will be a Stage 0. If it is larger, and has gone to a number of nodes, it will be given different stages, up to Stage IV, which is a large tumor which has affected multiple lymph nodes and spread as well.
The treatments for Stage 0 will be much less extensive than for any other stage of cancer. There are some treatments for Stage IV breast cancer, but most of the time, the goal will not be to cure the cancer. Rather, it will be to try to stop it from spreading any further, and making the patient as comfortable as possible in the time they have remaining.
Therefore, if you have not been paying attention to your breast health, now is the time to start.