For Breast Cancer, Your Best Defense is Finding It Early

It happens to one in eight American women. Getting breast cancer isn’t something we can control. We do have the power, however, to take steps to find breast cancer early through screenings, self-exam and physical exam. 

“Early detection of breast cancer is absolutely key,” says David Brown, MD, Radiologists and Medical Director of Mammography at Upper Valley Medical Center. “The five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent when we find breast cancer in its earliest stages. A big thrust of cancer care right now is identifying populations who are at high risk for getting breast cancer and helping them take risk-reduction measures.”

What’s Your Part in Early Detection?

Dr. Brown lists three important steps to help ensure you don’t have cancer — or for early diagnosis and treatment:

  1. Get a mammogram. Get a mammogram. It's important to know your risk for developing breast cancer. Risk assessment tools are available, but always discuss your personal situation with your doctor. “Women age 40 to 44, with an average risk for breast cancer, should consider getting a screening mammogram after discussing the risks and benefits with their doctor,” Dr. Brown advises. “Definitely get yearly screenings from age 45 to 54. At age 55 and older, get a mammogram every one to two years after consulting with your physician.” If you're at higher risk, consider getting annual mammograms. In fact, your doctor may recommend a yearly mammogram and breast MRI.
  2. Have a medical provider check your breasts routinely for abnormal tissue. “About 12 percent of breast cancers won’t show up on mammography, so you need a good breast exam by a health professional,” Dr. Brown says.
  3. Do your own breast self-exams. Dr. Brown says it’s an added check: “If you examine yourself routinely, you know if something new pops up. If it doesn’t cause anxiety, we encourage you to do it. If it’s uncomfortable for you, then don’t do it.”

What Tests Do Doctors Use to Confirm Breast Cancer?

As technology improves, so does breast cancer detection, Dr. Brown says. Diagnostic tests that help give an accurate diagnosis include the following:

“The five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent when we find breast cancer in its earliest stages."

Mammogram is the first test, taking X-ray images of the breast and revealing unusual or abnormal lumps. A more sophisticated version, 3D mammography, creates multiple images or “slices” of the breast, which is especially helpful if you have dense breast tissue. Some insurers won’t cover 3D, but Dr. Brown says, “If you can afford it and it’s available, get the 3D. Some studies say it offers a 30 percent increase in cancer detection.”

Breast Cancer Defense small

Breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), says Dr. Brown, “gives us another way to look at breast tissue without using radiation. Breast MRI is used in certain circumstances. It’s not recommended as a screening test.” 

Breast ultrasound uses sound waves to diagnose breast problems, most often in women with abnormal breast tissue. “If a mammogram shows a dense area, a targeted ultrasound can be used to study just that area,” Dr. Brown says.

Biopsy is an actual tissue sample taken if a questionable area is detected through one of the other tests. “The great majority of biopsies can be done in an office setting using local Lidocaine and a small needle,” Dr. Brown explains.  

If cancer is found, your doctor will then guide you through breast cancer staging to determine if the cancer is confined to your breast or has spread. Staging provides valuable information for you and your doctor to create the best possible treatment plan.

David Brown, MD

David Brown, MD

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