Breast cancer has almost reached "epidemic" proportions in the world. It is the leading non-skin cancer in women, especially in the age group of 50-70 years. It has the second highest death rate, after lung cancer.
With the improvement in health screening, health education, encouragement to pursue a better lifestyle, and newer treatment modalities, more of these cancers are being diagnosed early and treated better. As a result, death rates have fallen by about 25% since the 1980's.
Screening Mammography is an x-ray of the breasts which is mainly done to detect abnormalities of the breast tissue before a lump can actually be felt. Mammograms that are done when a lump is detected are to define a baseline for future reference and to examine the remainder of the affected breast. The technique is not 100% accurate and sometimes has to be augmented by ultrasound examination, especially for younger, denser breasts.
Simple suctioning of cells under local anesthetic into a needle can give information about the type of cells in a lump. The cells are squirted on a slide and stained. A diagnosis can be made within a few hours. This will guide the surgeon to perform a simple excision of the lump if benign cells are seen, or a more radical procedure if malignancy is noted.
The three main steps for the early detection of breast cancer are to:
- Carry out breast self-examination monthly from the age of forty
- Have a medical checkup once a year with breast examination and a Pap smear as part of a general examination
- Have an annual mammogram from the age of fifty if there are no major risk factors for the disease, but sooner if there are.