Just the thought of a breast cancer diagnosis can be very distressing. To reduce the dread, it helps to learn about this cancer and its treatment options.
Screening options and frequency
Most breast cancers are actually diagnosed on imaging studies. That would be mammograms and ultrasounds. For women with an average risk of breast cancer, it is recommended to start screening at age 40 and then every year until the age of 69 or 70. After that point, it’s up to the patient and her doctor to decide whether or not to continue screenings.
Women who are at high risk for breast cancer should begin screening earlier. Whether that be from personal history of breast cancer, family history of breast cancer or certain types of genetic diseases.
In addition to the mammogram, women with dense breasts will oftentimes need to undergo an ultrasound as well. An ultrasound will help the radiologist pinpoint any areas of concern. Additionally, although fairly rare, an MRI might be indicated.
What to look for in self-exams
In self-breast exams, people should look for changes in the contour of the breast and changes in the feel of the breast.
One specific warning sign to look for is discharge from the nipple. What to be concerned with in this regard would be one side versus both sides. Especially if the discharge is bloody. That can be a symptom of underlying problems.
Other things to watch for are dimpling or reddening of the skin. If the skin starts to look like an orange peel or if it gets swollen or hard, it’s time to make a doctor’s appointment. These concerns may end up being benign, but they may also be signs of underlying problems.
Breast cancer is a tremendously treatable disease with cure rates in the 90-percent range. Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy and surgery. It’s important to determine at which stage the cancer is and then tailor treatment to one’s specific disease.
In order to optimize survival, early detection is imperative. Continue to do your self-exams. No doctor is going to know or understand your body as well as you do. So, if you think something is wrong or has changed, it’s very important to get in and talk to somebody about it.
Dr. Jeremy Albin is a board-certified general surgeon with Columbus General Surgery.