Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is usually diagnosed through a physical exam and/or imaging techniques such as mammography, ultrasound, and MRI. The diagnosis of breast cancer is based on the presence of a nodule or lump in the breast, its size, and shape. Whether or not it is malignant, which can be suspected by the appearance it has in imaging studies, but it is ultimately confirmed with a biopsy. The cancer stage is then determined through further imaging and possibly a biopsy.
Different diagnostic procedures have their approach and their own applications. For instance:
- Ultrasound is easy and cheap. It is often used to perform screening in healthy women
- Mammographies are more accurate but are uncomfortable and commonly used after the age of 50 years
- Biopsies are only performed in highly suspicious nodules because it is an invasive procedure
Screening for breast cancer
Screening is the process of finding suspicious nodules or a cancer diagnosis in women at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. This includes women with certain risk factors, such as:
- Women over 50 years old
- Women under age 40 who have a close relative with breast cancer
- Women who have had radiation therapy to the chest wall or breast area
- Women who have had the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes tested and found to be positive
Screening aims to find breast cancers early when they are most treatable. Regular mammograms can detect cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable. Additionally, a self-breast exam should be performed monthly to detect any changes in the breast tissue. If any changes are detected, a medical appointment should be scheduled for further testing.