How to Diagnose Breast Cancer

How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening is so important. Early diagnosis provides the best possible outcome for those with breast cancer. Early detection greatly increases survival rates; those diagnosed in stages 0-1 have a 100% 5-year survival rate according to the American Cancer Society. This is because cancer treatment is most effective in its earliest stages.

Symptoms

Patients who don’t have routine screening tests will discover that they have breast cancer through the symptoms they experience. The most common symptoms of breast cancer include:

  • New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
  • Thickening or swelling of part of the breast
  • Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
  • Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area
  • Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood
  • Any change in the size or the shape of the breast
  • Pain in any area of the breast

Symptoms of breast cancer show up at different stages for different people. Some may not experience any until they are diagnosed in the later stages.

Breast Cancer Screening Tests

Different tests can be used to look for and diagnose breast cancer. If your doctor finds an area of concern on a breast cancer screening test (usually a mammogram), or if you have symptoms that could mean breast cancer, you will most likely need more tests to confirm. 

  • Breast Ultrasound: A breast ultrasound is a scan that uses sound waves to make pictures, called sonograms, of areas inside the breast. It works well as a noninvasive scan with minimal discomfort.
  • Mammography: If you have a problem in your breast, such as lumps, or if an area of the breast looks abnormal on a screening mammogram, doctors will usually prescribe a diagnostic mammogram. This is the most frequent imaging scan for breast cancer diagnosis and to track treatment progression. During a mammogram, each breast is pressed between 2 plates, and an X-ray image of the breast is made. Two views of each breast are taken, one with the X-ray beam aimed from top to bottom and the other from side to side. 
  • Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): The MRI scan will use powerful magnetic radio waves to make detailed pictures of the areas inside the breast.
  • Fast Breast MRI: A fast breast MRI is different from a breast MRI because it lasts a shorter amount of time, lasting about 10 minutes compared to 45 minutes for a traditional MRI. 
  • Surgical Biopsy: A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or fluid from the breast to be looked at under a microscope and do more testing. There are different kinds of biopsies (for example, fine-needle aspiration, core biopsy, or open biopsy).

It is important to note that while genetics tests such as those that look for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene may indicate a if someone carries a greater risk of having breast cancer, it is not a diagnostic test.

Screening Guidelines

It is recommended that women of average risk of breast cancer adhere to screening guidelines to be diagnosed as early as possible for the best outcomes. A person is considered to be at average risk if they don’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer (hereditary cancer), or a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as in a BRCA gene mutation), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. 

Women with higher than average of risk of breast cancer, including family history, increased genetic disposition, and certain radiology procedures are recommended to start screening as early as 25. Consult your doctor if you are unsure of your risk of breast cancer or have questions regarding screening procedures. 

To book a scan, visit us at Medmo.com. Medmo helps people schedule radiology imaging tests – such as MRI, CT scans, PET, and more – at nearby accredited centers and identify the payment solution that works best for them. 

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