Breast cancer conjures images of disfigurement, pain, and all things negative, yet it is highly treatable if discovered early and given timely and appropriate treatment. Early discovery also means the overall treatment may be simpler, less costly, and more effective.
The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown. Many of the risk factors are those we cannot change— such as being born female, getting older, having dense breasts (a feature best seen on mammograms), and inheriting certain gene changes (although genetics only causes 5-10 per cent of cases).
“Early detection is the best protection.”– Ranjit Kaur Pritam Singh, Board Member of Reach to Recovery International
So How Do We Go About Discovering Cancer Early?
Understanding and getting to know your breasts’ characteristics and appearance is the first step towards being breast health aware, and this applies to both men and women. In the ideal situation, one examines one’s own breasts systematically once a month, about 3 days after menstruation ends, or in those who are menopaused or who are male, on the same date each month. Ladies older than 18 years can begin this self-familiarisation process.
If you feel or observe something of concern in your breasts, and it persists after two menstrual cycles, please see your doctor. For those who are menopausal or male, please see your doctor without too much delay. While we might be worried about getting breast cancer, worrying does not make cancer go away. Instead, you may be wasting precious time. Good news, ladies, most abnormalities felt (commonly a lump) are not cancerous.
The Routine Procedure That Can Save Your Life
As a woman gets older, an annual clinical breast examination (by a doctor or breast care nurse) may be added to her routine. If you are female, even if you feel nothing wrong in your breasts, consider a screening mammogram once you are over 40 years old, when the risk of getting breast cancer has increased enough to make screening useful.
Then get it done regularly at one or two year intervals. Screening means getting a mammogram even when you do not feel or see anything wrong with your breasts. A mammogram can detect cancer before you can feel it, which means early discovery.
“Cancer is just a word. With the right mindset and support, we can thrive beyond imagination.”– Kim Lim President of Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia
The mammogram is a series of special low dose X-rays with the breasts in optimal compression. The standard mammogram is made up of two views per breast. The 3D mammogram obtains a series of low dose X-rays in an arc for each view. This produces many images, each with less overlapping breast tissue, thereby improving the ability to pick up abnormalities.
The mammogram does not have a 100 per cent cancer pick up rate. The ability to detect cancer depends on several factors. This includes each person’s unique breast tissue pattern and density (proportion of fat in relation to the fibroglandular tissue). Therefore, it is important to keep your old mammograms for comparison to improve detection and accuracy rates. Despite these factors, the mammogram continues to be the gold standard for breast cancer screening.
Now is the time to take charge of your own health. Remember, early cancer discovery saves lives.
About the Author
Dr Evelyn LM Ho is a Consultant Clinical Radiologist at ParkCity Medical Centre; Technical Advisor -Breast Cancer Welfare Association Malaysia; and Immediate Past President – Asian Oceanian Society of Radiology.