How Can One Detect Breast Cancer At The Early Stages?
Before understanding and getting into the detailing of how one can detect early stage breast cancer we need to understand what breast cancer is. Knowing your breast and being able to differentiate between what’s normal and what’s not is very important. The look and feel of your breast are what will allow you to know the difference and the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can actually help in early breast cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Rohan Khandelwal shares his opinion and suggests how one can detect breast cancer at the early stages.
Women in the hustle and bustle of everyday life get so involved in their family’s health that they keep on ignoring their own health which can surely lead to severe health problems someday. That is why doctors suggest every woman visit and get herself tested every 6 months to 1 year. The test done for the detection of breast cancer is a mammography test.
Why is early detection of breast cancer important?
We have all heard the quote “Prevention is better than cure” so it is better to detect and treat something at an early stage so that severe damage and harm can be avoided. If Breast cancer is detected at an early stage there are 97-100% chances of cure or treatment but if it is spread and not treated on time it starts to spread to the lymph nodes of the armpits from where it may start to spread to other parts of the body as well. Once spread to other parts of the body, controlling and treating breast cancer becomes very difficult.
Simply put, early detection is the key to treating and curing breast cancer. Experts suggest and encourage women to really know their bodies. A woman can only know her body better than anyone else and that is why as mentioned above regular screenings and checkups are essential.
Common early Breast Cancer Symptoms
Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can actually help women detect and self-diagnose if they have breast cancer and allow them to seek immediate help from the experts. Therefore, below are some of the important and common symptoms that should be reported to a specialist immediately.
- Lump in the breast
A lump in the breast is one of the most common signs of breast cancer and this can easily be self-diagnosed. The women should be able to touch, feel and understand the lump if any. A breast lump is a painless, hard and irregular shape lump.
- Pain in the breast
There might be changes in the skin cells of the breast which may lead to pain in the breast. Slight tenderness and discomfort might be felt in the breast. The lump is usually found to be painless but the feeling of pain and discomfort should be ignored and one should get tested.
- Swelling in the breast
Breast cancer may cause the entire breast to enlarge/swell. This swelling may alter the appearance of your breasts. Even though it is possible for both breasts to be of different sizes, in the case of breast cancer, the swelling may be such that the disparity in each breast would be different from usual.
- Sudden redness on the breast
Breast cancer may cause the skin to change its colour. The breast may start to look bruised or discoloured. The breast skin may appear purple or reddish.
- Skin tethering or dimpling
Skin tethering or dimpling means when the cancer cells lead to fluid buildup in the breast. This fluid causes swelling as well as the tethering /dimpling of the breast skin. The dimpling skin of the breast can be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer also called an aggressive type of breast cancer.
- Nipple discharge
A breast cancer patient might observe thin or thick discharge from the nipples which may vary in colour, it may be clear, milky, green, red or even yellow. It is common and mandatory for breastfeeding mothers to see milky discharge but should seek medical assistance if any change in the milk is observed.
Breast cancer is a kind of cancer that develops in the tissues of the breast. It triggers when cells of the breast mutate and start to develop uncontrollably in the ducts and lobules or milk glands of the breast.
It can even travel to the lymph nodes of the armpits from where it can spread to other parts of the body. Although Breast cancer is found mostly in women, it can rarely occur in men, too.
Breast Cancer is the most common cancer among women in India and the world. In India, the incidence rate is rising, especially among urban women. The age of breast cancer is also coming down as it is increasingly affecting younger women. One main reason for the increased incidence rate is late detection.
Any of the above mentioned symptoms can be indicative of breast cancer. But the presence of any of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that one has breast cancer.
It is also essential to note that not all lumps are cancerous. The majority of the breast lumps are benign. But some kind of benign lumps can raise the risk of breast cancer.
In case of any change or lump, that was not there before, it becomes critical that it be checked by the doctor to verify whether it is benign or cancerous and if it can affect any future cancer risk or not.
Early detection of breast cancer
The early detection of breast cancer is key to the successful control of the disease. Although there is no sure solution for the prevention of breast cancer, early detection can result in a good outcome.
Early detection is important as treatment options are more, if detected early and not only do chances of survival increase, the chances to preserve the breast are also higher.
Most breast cancers are detected on screening mammograms, which can find cancers at an early stage, mostly even before the appearance of any symptom or any kind of a lump.
How to detect breast cancer at early stages:
Early detection is the major input in the treatment of breast cancers. There are many steps that can be taken to early detection of breast cancer when it is most curable. The most common tests to detect breast cancer are:
- Self- awareness and examination
- Clinical breast examination
- Screening in the form of mammography and ultrasound
It is a very good preventive measure to know about the appearance and the feeling of the breasts so that any visible lump or changes can be noticed.
It is Consult your doctor to learn the best way of performing a breast exam. While there is no proof that it decreases mortality from breast cancer.
But it is recommended that every woman must be aware of the regular feel and look of her breasts.
In case of any significant changes she should report to her doctor immediately like:
- Any nipple discharges
- Some form of a new lump
- Any visible change in the shape or size of the breast or nipple
- Continuous pain in either breast
- Some sort of skin color change over the breast
It is recommended that one does the self-examination at least once every month, immediately after the monthly period.
Clinical Breast Examination
A clinical breast examination is performed by a Doctor or another health professional who is trained to recognize any abnormality.
Usually, it is a gynecologist or a family physician who performs the breast exam. This is a physical exam in which your doctor or the healthcare professional using the finger pads palpates the breast, armpits, and collarbone to detect any warning signs.
For better treatment options, it is very essential to get diagnosed as soon as possible. For this, it becomes very important to report the doctor in case of any changes.
Some screening recommendations for the women at average risk advised by the American Cancer Society are:
- For the age 40-44: An annual mammogram
- Age 45-54: Getting yearly mammograms is necessary
- For 55 and older: either yearly or doing on alternate years is quite enough
This is one of the most important screening tests doctors perform for diagnosing breast cancer. This test is an X-ray of the breast area. A mammography test is an advanced test that can detect breast cancer up to 2 years before the tumour could be felt by the patient and doctor.
Informed decision at the right age: Women should consult with their health experts to discuss when the right age and right time is to start the screenings. Breast screenings are very beneficial as they can help detect the problem way before.
Men, like women, can be affected by breast cancer. In addition, different leading organisations have varying recommendations for when and how often people should be checked. It’s critical to discuss with your doctor about your risk and their screening recommendations.
The choice is up to you and the doctor.
Through the mammogram, the breast lumps can be detected up to 2 years before the presence of any visible symptom. Many women do not undergo any mammogram until the age of 40.
But it can be undertaken at a younger age in the case of high-risk women. A mammogram is like an Xray in which breast tissue is imaged using small radiation.
Several tests help to verify if a lump may be cancerous because non- cancerous lumps have different physical features. This difference is confirmed only by imaging tests like mammograms and ultrasounds. Only a doctor can advise when and how these tests should be done.
This is most recommended in the case of women have dense breasts. In such cases, mammograms are not very effective. It is also recommended if you are at high risk and MRI can’t be done. Or in case of pregnancy because exposure to radiation during a mammogram is not recommended.
By the means of this test, different images of the breast are combined into one to generate a single detailed image. Often, it is used after the diagnosis to know about the extension of cancer.
This can be combined with a mammogram in case of;
- High risk of breast cancer
- Genetic history
- Dense breasts
- Have undergone any radiation treatments of breasts before the age of 30
The only accurate method through which your Doctor can confirm breast cancer is a surgical breast biopsy. In this test, the oncologist uses a specialized needle under Xray guidance to take a sample of cells from the affected area. These cells are then tested in the laboratory to determine whether they are cancerous or not.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer it becomes very necessary for the doctor to know about the type and stage of cancer. Once the type and stage are determined, the oncologist can decide the best mode of treatment.
Q1. Can breast cancer be cured if detected early?
Early detection and treatment can help prevent breast cancer from advancing and may also help in curing and removing breast cancer from its roots.
Q2. Does a blood test show cancer?
Samples collected during a blood test may show cancer cells if any. This may help in the early diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.
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