Breast cancer screening (Mammography)
skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. None of these are specific and can also be present in some noncancerous conditions. Mammograms can also pick up ductal carcinoma. I.e. cancerous growth of the cells that are lining the milk ducts in the breast. Various organizations have made recommendations as to when one should have a mammography. Women age 50 and older should have mammograms every 1 to 2 years. Women who have a strong family history of breast cancers, especially in the first degree relatives and /or who have the mutation in either the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene should consider doing mammography even earlier. Mammography helps to detect the cancer much before one would detect it with self-examination. This enables us to start treatment early.
It is important to realize that mammograms will not always pick-up all cancers. It may miss about 20% of cancers. This happens because breast has two types of tissues- glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Glandular tissue appears white and fatty tissue appears black on the X-ray film. The cancer tissue also appears white and therefore it may be missed. This is more likely to happen in younger women as they have more glandular tissue.
Breast self-exam – BSE
Women are advised to check one’s own breast for lumps or other unusual changes at regular intervals. Women are advised to do so immediately after the menstrual cycle. Breast feels different to touch during pregnancy, before and after periods and after menopause. Birth control pills and hormones also induce changes. Breast self-exam has advantages that it makes the woman conscious and she may detect a lump before it makes its presence felt. But there are certain disadvantages mainly that some women tend to worry and may report too often leading to unnecessary interventions. Therefore it is suggested that it may be advisable to get a complete clinical examination done by a doctor at regular intervals. Regular breast examination by a doctor and a mammography together can go a long way in reducing deaths due to breast cancer.