A mammogram is an X-ray examination and picture of the breast. Mammograms are taken to detect early signs of breast cancer. Mammograms are the most common form of tests that doctors rely upon to find breast cancer, sometimes up to three years before it can be felt.
When mammograms are working at their best (they do get it wrong too), they can detect breast problems, such as a lump, pain, or nipple discharge, as well as for women who have no breast complaints at all. Before they can be physically felt it is possible to detect breast cancers, benign tumors, and cysts.
If you are deemed to be of high risk for breast cancer, genetic testing may be offered to you to establish whether you have an inherited altered gene. The most common inherited altered genes are called BRCA1, BRCA2 and TP53.
Genetic testing can tell you whether your breast cancer is connected to your family history through a mutated gene or not.
Genetic testing offers more precision about your state of health and surely will become the number one route for breast screening in the future.
Counselling is required to ensure you are prepared for all eventual outcomes it may throw up.
Mammograms are not always available or feasible. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breasts to show any lumps or abnormalities. Your breast specialist may also suggest a breast ultrasound if they need to know whether a lump in your breast is solid or contains liquid.
Breast ultrasound is often used in high-resource settings to supplement mammographs. Also, it is portable and lower in cost than mammograms.
Breast ultrasound has been proven to be exceptionally effective and is particularly useful for detecting cancer in dense breast tissue that is otherwise obscured on mammography x-rays. The accuracy rate is higher.
A PET-CT scan combines a CT scan and a PET scan to give detailed information about your cancer. The CT scan takes a series of x-rays from all around your body. The PET scan uses a mildly radioactive drug to show up areas of your body where cells are more active than normal.
If looks like your breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body, a PET-CT scan will help to identify that.
MRI stands for ‘Magnetic Resonance Imaging’. Powerful magnets are used to produce a magnetic field that forces protons (electric particles) towards that magnetic field. Then a radiofrequency current is pulsed through the body to disturb the protons. Somehow, this produces pictures from angles all around the body that shows up soft tissues very clearly.
For women with lobular (from the milk glands) breast cancer, a breast MRI scan might be used to see the cancer. This is because lobular breast cancer doesn’t show up well on a mammogram or breast ultrasound. A breast MRI scan might also be used to assess the size of the cancer to check which kind of surgery is possible.
MRI scan is also used in breast screening for young women who are at higher risk of developing cancer because of Triple Negative breast cancer or a gene abnormality, for example.
TOMOSYNTHESIS (3D) MAMMOGRAPHY
Tomosynthesis, which people may refer to as ‘Digital Breast Tomosynthesis’ (DBT), uses the same technology as a regular mammogram. However, while traditional mammograms are 2-D and provide a flat image. Tomosynthesis creates a 3-D image. Standard mammograms and tomosynthesis both use X-rays.
Basically, a 3D mammogram can see more than the traditional one. It is used to look for breast cancer in people who have no signs or symptoms but in time DBT must surely end up replacing 2D mammographies.
If other tests suggest you have breast cancer, a core needle biopsy (CNB) will confirm it. This is often the preferred type of biopsy if breast cancer is suspected, because it removes more breast tissue than a fine needle aspiration (FNA), and it doesn’t require surgery.
The results of a breast biopsy can show whether the area in question is breast cancer or not.
The pathology report from the breast biopsy is really very important to you, as well as, your doctor. It will more than likely, determine what your future treatment will be whether surgery, or otherwise.
Make sure your doctor explains what your pathology report means beyond all the medical jargon stuff. Tell her, or him that you really want to be able to understand.