How a Doctor Detects Breast Cancer

It’s important to detect breast cancer early on, which can be done by getting a mammogram regularly. If you’ve never had one, here’s what you can expect during a breast cancer screening.

Breast cancer is among the most common cancers diagnosed in women. However, by detecting breast cancer early and obtaining proper follow-up treatment, you can increase your chances of survival dramatically. That is because breast cancer, as with any illness, is typically easier to treat and has a higher success rate when discovered sooner rather than later.

Mammograms are used to check for breast cancer. A mammogram is a breast screening test that detects abnormal growths in the tissues of both breasts via an x-ray image. Detectable abnormalities include small calcifications, cysts, and tumors that may otherwise go unnoticed during a breast self-exam (BSE). A mammogram is the first step in determining if you have breast cancer.

There are screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. Routine screenings take less time because fewer images are needed from women who are not showing any obvious symptoms. On the other hand, diagnostic mammograms require several images at different angles and magnifications in order for the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. This occurs when women are experiencing pain, notice a lump, or show signs of a growth in their screening.

On the day of your screening, your will be asked to fill out a form listing your medical history and to make note if you are experiencing any unusual signs or symptoms.

You will then be taken into a private patient room and asked to remove all jewelry and clothing from the waist up. A wrap will be provided. A nurse will guide you in front of a special mammogram machine, and have you place one breast on a horizontal platform, adjusting the height accordingly. A second platform will be pressed down against the top of your breast, spreading it out to an even thickness and a steady view before an x-ray image is taken.

During the process (which only lasts a few seconds), you will be asked to stand perfectly still and hold your breath. The pressure may cause discomfort. If you feel pain, notify the nurse so adjustments can be made.

Shortly after your mammogram, your doctor will be able to tell you if there are signs of anything unusual. Your doctor will also tell you the next steps to take if necessary, such as additional tests, follow-ups, or treatments.

You can use the time to discuss with your doctor and learn more about your body – to become familiar with what’s normal, and learn the signs of any irregularities concerning your breasts. Women who are comfortable speaking to their doctor are less likely to ignore warning signs and are more likely to contact their doctor if they suspect any problems.

Women around the age of 40 are encouraged to schedule their first baseline mammogram –
and should have one every 1-2 years. However, those at higher risk of developing breast cancer, such as women with a family history of breast cancer or women who notice an unusually lump in one or both breasts, should schedule a mammogram even sooner. Have a discussion with your doctor about how often a mammogram is recommended.

By Dr. Wanchalerm Nunvitipong, Breast Surgeon, Surgical Clinic, Bumrungrad Hospital

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