Breast cancer is one of the leading causes of death in women all over the world. It affects both men and women but is more common in women. Early detection of breast cancer can improve the chances of successful treatment and survival.
Screening tests are performed to identify the early signs of breast cancer. It does not help to prevent the cancer but makes it easier to treat. It helps to detect cancer in initial stages even before symptoms occur, and helps your doctor to find out nature of the disease and choose the appropriate treatment options.
In screening tests, the physician can identify the early signs of breast cancer, which include:
- Changes in the shape of the nipple
- Breast pain that does not reduce until your next period
- A new lump that does not go after your next period
- Formation of lump around the collarbone or under the arm
- Unexplained redness, swelling, skin irritation on the breast
- Rash on the breast
- Discharge from the nipple
- Change in size and shape of the breast
- Peeling, scaley, or flakey appearance of skin near the breast
Breast self-examination and clinical breast examination
It involves examining the breast for lumps or other abnormalities on your own. In a clinical breast examination, the nurse or a doctor does the breast exam.
It is one of the more conventional screening methods. It uses radiography for examining the breast. It detects lumps, swelling, and changes in size and shape of the breast. It is not useful in finding the tumors if the breast tissue is dense. It is mainly used for two purposes: diagnostic mammography and screening mammography.
Diagnostic mammography is performed in symptomatic women. It is expensive, time-consuming, and is used to detect the exact size and location of the breast abnormalities.
Screening mammography is performed in asymptomatic women.
It is a diagnostic aid to mammography. It helps to test women with dense breast tissue. Sometimes it may give false positive results (results appear abnormal even in the absence of cancer).
Magnetic resonance imaging
It is mainly used to detect the cancers which are not visible on a mammogram.
Molecular breast imaging
It is a more sensitive test compared to mammography. It is a nuclear medicine technique which is currently under research. A radioactive tracer molecule (taken up mostly by cancer cells) is injected into the body through a vein. Then a nuclear scanner is used to examine the tissue. The area which is more concentrated with radioactive substance indicates the presence of cancer cells.
This test helps in imaging people with dense breast tissue. However, this test is inappropriate for general breast cancer screening.
Women who have a family history of breast cancer should go for regular screening to reduce the risk of cancer. According to American Cancer Society (ACS) recommendations, women should strictly undergo regular screening from the age of 45 years. Women aged between 46 and 54 should undergo screening once in a year while women aged above 55 should undergo screening twice in a year. Breast cancer is a dangerous and discomforting condition for many women and men globally. However, with proper and routine screening you may be able to detect any possible cancer before it goes into more advanced stages.