Breast cancer is commonly referred to as the silent killer because many women do not realize they have it until it has advanced to more serious stages. The best way to catch breast cancer early is through regular screening.
In fact all women over 20 must undergo breast cancer screening every few years, and every year once they cross 40. Many women do not take the regular breast examinations and mammograms out of fear or thought that it could not happen to them. They are wrong!
Let’s understand breast examination and mammogram better to know the whys and whens of it:
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that looks for changes in breast tissue that could appear abnormal. Here are some things that every woman must know about the procedure:
- It could save life – Screening through a mammogram can detect signs of breast cancer even before a woman develops any symptoms. It reduces the risk of death from breast cancer by 25 to 30 per cent.
- There’s nothing to be afraid of – Women are often worried if the procedure would be painful or whether the radiation used can harm them in some way. Truth is that mammography takes only about 20 minutes, does not cause much discomfort, and uses radiation in small amounts.
- Results don’t always mean cancer – A mammogram that shows out-of-normal images cannot confirm cancer. A small proportion of women undergoing mammography may be required to take more tests, an even smaller percentage may require a biopsy, which may or may not turn out to be cancer.
- Age and risk factor determines how often it is needed – Women in their 40s should have a yearly mammogram screening, and those in their 20s and 30s can get it done every few years. However, the frequency may be higher for high-risk women (history of breast cancer in family).
A physician conducts a breast exam by looking at the appearance of the breasts and feeling for lumps or abnormal breast tissue. The woman can also do breast exam on herself, at home. Here are few things to keep in mind regarding the procedure:
- Every woman’s ‘normal’ is different – Breast size and shape varies from one woman to another, and the same woman’s breasts can also feel different at different times of the month. It is important for women to be aware of how their breasts normally look and feel.
- Not every breast lump is cancer – Lumps in breast can occur due to more than one reason. However, a doctor should be consulted if a woman notices a lump that does not go away soon or does not change in shape.
- There is a best time to conduct a breast exam – The ideal time of the month for breast examination is one week after the first day of a period. Women with irregular menstrual cycles or those who have had hysterectomy can fix a day in the month for the exam. Breastfeeding mothers should do the test after a feeding, as the test will be easier and more reliable with little milk within.
- Breast exam doe not usually hurt – It is a painless procedure that does not cause discomfort. An exception could be a woman expecting her period, in which case the breasts may be swollen or tender to touch.
Early detection of Breast Cancer is the key to Survival.