Early Detection of Breast Cancer
by Joseph D. Tabora, M.D.
This article starts below.
Early detection is our best chance against breast cancer. When identified and diagnosed in its early stage, breast cancer is easily treated. On the contrary, when it is diagnosed at an advanced stage, it is almost impossible to cure. The early detection methods for breast cancer are so easy to perform that no one should be diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer. The three steps to early detection of breast cancer are: breast self examination, clinical breast examination and mammography.
Breast self examination
Regularly examining your breast will allow you to identify breast changes as they occur. You should do it a week after your menstrual period. If you are no longer menstruating, you can do the self breast examination at the beginning of each month.
I saw the benefit of breast self examination when I talked to a patient who did not perform the breast examination. She had a mass on her breast the size of a chicken egg. When I asked why she didn't see a doctor when the mass was smaller, she said that she didn't know that she had a mass. She just accidentally palpated the mass when she was getting dressed. A regular breast self examination would have identified the condition earlier.
Clinical breast examination
Once every year, it's best to have your breast examined by a physician. Subtle changes may only be identified by an experienced physician.
You also want to consult your physician if you feel a mass during your self breast examination.
Mammography may find signs of a beginning breast cancer even before you or your doctor can feel a mass during breast examination. Women over the age of 50 should have a mammography every year. Those below 50 whose mother or sister had breast cancer also need a mammography.
Benefit of early detection
Breast cancer is only curable in its early stage. The early stage can only be detected by doing the three steps described in this article. Without the proper early detection methods, breast cancer will follow its natural course.
Natural history of breast cancer
Cancer of the breast starts from a single malignant cell. This renegade cell multiplies continuously for several years. It takes about two to five years before the single malignant cell becomes a mass as big as a marble.
Once it reaches this size, it grows exponentially. It may reach the size of a chicken egg in a few years. Left on its own, it will continue to grow until it breaks out of the skin and becomes a foul and infected wound that never heals.
Cancer cells may spread to the lymph nodes in the axilla and can be felt as nodules. From the axilla, the cells may spread to the bones, lungs or liver.
The best time to diagnose breast cancer is when the renegade cells are still confined in the breast. And the only way to do this is to do the three early detection methods.
There is no reason why breast cancer should be detected during its advanced and incurable stages. The simple steps of breast self examination, clinical breast examination and mammography will let everyone catch this dreadful condition in its curable stage.