How to Detect Breast Cancer Before It Shows Itself


About half a million women worldwide die of breast cancer every year. Breast cancer is diagnosed in approximately 1.3 million women across the globe, and thousands of lives are also continually spared due to breast cancer screening. Screening is a term for tests and exams women can have to see if they breast cancer or not. Early detection and early treatment can save countless of lives. Cancers in advanced stages limit the treatment options for the individual whereas those detected early are easily treated even with non-surgical treatments.

Cancers that are detected through symptoms mean that it has advanced itself and has manifested itself physiologically: through pain, swelling or other symptoms. But cancer can already be there even if one does not feel it yet. Screening methods can already detect cancer as little as a lump of fifty cells. It can also detect non-cancerous growths such as lumps and cysts which may need removal.

Nurse With Patient About To Have A MammogramTypically, the diagnosis starts with an hands-on exam called a clinical exam done by a physician on the breasts. Lumps that are not caused by a woman’s normal hormonal changes are often harder and less mobile. Again, lumps are not necessarily cancerous: they may be benign or harmless as well as malignant or cancerous. Nevertheless, both types need to be detected and treated as early as possible. Also, early detection make for a more comprehensive and positive prognosis for a woman with breast cancer and allows her to better deal with the disease.

Breast Cancer Screening Methods for Early Detection:


· Breast Self-Exam or BSE:  Women, especially those in their twenties, are advised to conduct monthly breast self-examinations about a week after their menstrual period to detect changes. Many cases of breast cancer were found out by the women themselves. . Breasts undergo changes because of normal hormone shifts in a woman’s cycle but there certain changes that women should look out for.


BSE should be done regularly. It is vital that women become familiar with their breasts’ shape, contour as well as the natural changes they undergo so that they can easily detect unnatural changes. Women should look out for benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous) lumps which are not due to their cycle. Discharge from the nipple aside from breast milk which may be yellowish or tinged with blood is not normal. Changes in the skin color and the nipples as well as dimpling must be reported. These changes may not be cancer related but any abnormal change that is detected must be reported to a doctor just as well.


· Mammogram:  Women above forty are advised to have annual mammograms. A mammogram is a common screening method which is responsible for detecting up to 90% of cancer cases. It is basically an x-ray of the breast often done in two angles. Mammograms are done both as screening and diagnostic tests.


Although radiation exposure is known to increase risks for breast cancer, the mammogram uses the lowest possible level of radiation and findings have shown that these do not significantly increase a woman’s risk for cancer.


Women who are breastfeeding can still have mammograms although the images may be less accurate because the breast tissue appears denser in a lactating mother. Also, those with breast implants must work with a specialist who knows how find the right angles since the implants might obscure the breast tissues.


· Ultrasound: This method is an accessible, non-evasive and less expensive screening exam. It uses sound waves to assess a breast composition and often the only way to determine if a lump is a cyst without having to do a biopsy (a surgical procedure wherein a sample of the lump is removed and examined). It uses an ultra-sensitive microphone to detect the sound waves and form black and white images and does not expose the patient to radiation.


However, it is still not considered as an alternative breast screening method for a mammogram. Specialists still recommend for women to do mammograms, and ultrasound is simply used a complimentary screening method.


· Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI: This is also considered to be a complimentary screening method often done after a mammogram. It is more sensitive and comprehensive than an ultrasound and uses magnets and radiowaves to assess the breasts’ composition. One is made to lie on a narrow bed which glides into a narrow tube which may be discomfitting to patients with claustrophobia (or fear of small, enclosed spaces). This is also less accessible than ultrasound and more expensive than an ultrasound and a mammogram. This mostly done for patients who are high-risk for breast cancer, rather than those with just an average risk. This is because it has a false-positive rate or may have findings that are actually not cancer leading to more biopsies for further confirmation.

Making sure you are proactive in the fight against breast cancer is an important step. Many cities and communities now offer free or low cost screening tests for breast cancer to women who need financial assistance. Breast Cancer, if found early, has a good chance of being cured in today’s environment. Make your own health a priority by doing your part in reducing your breast cancer risk and getting screened at the recommended intervals. It’s your body—keep it healthy!