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Early detection is the best method for preventing the spread of breast cancer. Regular screening is the best method for early detection, and it may detect small cancers that wouldn't be detected by other methods. However, screening methods vary because there are several types of breast cancer and several factors that influence the risk of developing it.
Some cancers are invasive and metastasize quickly while others are non-invasive and may never spread; some small cancers dissolve on their own so you may never know you had one. It's also possible to have more than one type of tumor within the breast tissue. Researchers recognize that early detection of breast cancer reduces both the morbidity and the mortality rates of all types of breast cancer.
The results of a 25-year study published in the British Medical Journal indicated that mammograms were of questionable value in detecting breast cancer, even though they're the most popular. After a positive mammogram, women sometimes received unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery due to the results of a mammogram, but the severity of the cancer didn't warrant the treatment. Since mammograms don't always detect the presence of cancer, self-exam is the key preventative.
Of the 90,000 women who participated in the study, mortality rates from breast cancer were the same whether the women received mammograms or not. The researchers concluded that if a cancer was too small to be felt, detection by a mammogram wasn't valuable.
New cancer drugs can also be a factor in screening as is public education. Those who were more educated about the subject were more likely to seek medical help early if they detected a lump.
Self-examination on a monthly basis is the best initial screening process but it needs to be followed with treatment if a lump is found. Treatment doesn't necessarily mean a mammogram, which can cause trauma to breast tissue as well as elevate the woman's stress level. If a lump is found, your medical professional has several options for treatment.
Most commonly ordered is the mammogram, but this may expose the breast tissue to unnecessary radiation and mammograms are usually less effective in women who are less than 50 years old. If the breast tissue is dense, there may be a false positive when the lump(s) may be benign. The skill of the radiologist is also a factor in the success of a mammogram.
A clinical breast exam, or CBE, is similar to a self exam except it's performed by a health care professional and may therefore provide more peace of mind. Your doctor or healthcare professional will check the breasts as well as the underarms and surrounding tissues, which enables him or her to locate abnormal tissues.
Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is another screening tool. This diagnostic procedure uses a computer, a strong magnet, and radio waves to transmit images of the interior of the body. Although it's normally used when there is a family history of breast cancer, a genetic predisposition, or other genetic indicators, anyone can have an MRI. This procedure is more effective at locating some types of breast cancer than a mammogram, but it doesn't show calcium deposits, which can be precursors to cancer.
Thermography uses a camera to discover temperature changes within the body. Cancer cells are generally lower in temperature than surrounding tissues so thermography can differentiate between normal tissue and cancer cells. Thermography hasn't been tested in clinical trials at this point so there are no statistics as to its efficacy in detection.
Tissue sampling is an old but effective method for determining the characteristics of cells. It can be a fine-needle aspiration, which involves inserting a very fine needle into the areola and extracting tissue. Or, it can be a nipple aspiration, which uses suction to extract fluid from the nipple. Or, it can be a ductal lavage, which uses a hair-sized tube to release salt water into the milk duct and then extracts the water. When the water is extracted, it includes cells from the breast tissue and enables the lab technicians to determine if there are cancer cells within the ducts.
Regular screening is essential in order to maintain healthy breast tissue but screening isn't foolproof. It can result in a false positive or a false negative, there may be physical and emotional discomfort, age can be a factor in the results, anxiety and stress levels can increase, and the knowledge learned may not improve your health or your longevity. Medications can skew the results as can hormone levels.
Many screening techniques have risks so you should be aware of them before undergoing any of them. Discussing the matter with your healthcare professional can help you make the best decision for yourself.
It's easy to become so reliant on modern medicine that we stop listening to our bodies. One of the most effective methods for screening is to listen to your body. You've inhabited your body all your life and you know it better than anyone. If something doesn't feel right or it feels just a little off, pay attention to it and don't ignore the symptoms. Practice good self care. It's easy to get so involved in taking care of others that you neglect yourself. Don't do that. You have to be healthy in order to take care of others and that means taking care of yourself. Start by eating healthy and unprocessed foods, take time for yourself every day even if it's only 15 minutes, and reduce your stress levels by praying or meditating. Practicing good self care is the first and best step to keeping your body healthy and cancer-free.