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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How Is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

October 7, 2021
Sarah Falcone RN

Every 13 minutes, a woman dies from breast cancer. Unfortunately, many women with the disease do not show symptoms. So, regular screening for breast cancer is critical for early detection and diagnosis.

Breast Cancer screening typically occurs as a part of routine preventative care. Individuals do not have to have any signs or symptoms to have a screening performed by their doctor. Manual exams, ultrasound, thermography, and mammography are a few ways patients are screened for abnormalities. A doctor can explain screening options and when it is time to consider certain tests. 

To find out how breast cancer screening aids in the diagnosis of the disease, read on.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Screening

Breast cancer can be asymptomatic. In other words, it may have no symptoms. In fact, cases may show different symptoms and examination findings. That is why screening should be individualized for each patient. 

Screening means looking for or testing for something when there are no signs.

Many people think that only someone with a family history should worry. Yet, about 85% of breast cancers occur in women who do not have any family history of breast cancer. Rather, genetic mutations that occur as women age increase their risk. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are being a woman and growing older. 

Doctors are trained in the latest research and guidelines. They can tell their patients about the options. And doctors help women decide when it is a good idea to be tested.

 

How Breast Cancer Is Diagnosed

Breast cancer is typically diagnosed in one of the following ways:

  • Abnormal breast exams, such as lumps in the breast or armpit
  • Screening mammogram or Xray of the breast tissue
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Biopsy sampling
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Mammography is the most common screening method used today. Other testing methods include Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBI) and thermography, although these are not widely used.

How Breast Cancer Is Detected Early

According to a recent article, doctors are seeing later-stage cancer cases in younger women. This is worrisome because cancers detected in younger women in their 20s and 30s are more aggressive. And they may lead to poorer outcomes.

Doctors are seeing later-stage cancer cases in younger women. This is worrisome.

Early detection is key in cancer treatment. The cost of treatment, risks of complications including death, and length of treatment go down with earlier detection. 

If not caught early, cancers can grow and spread. When cancer cells move to other organs, this is called metastasis. Thus, cancer is harder to treat.

The best way to catch cancerous changes early is through regular check-ups with a doctor and routine screening tests to help detect changes early. Online doctors or virtual gynecologists can order mammograms or other imaging tests, and tailor screening plans for women who do not usually see a primary care physician.

Breast Cancer and Blood Tests

Medical researchers continue to look for ways to help doctors with better and more accurate tests.

In 2019, the National Cancer Institute presented a new study that showed Doctors could detect breast cancer up to five years before any clinical signs appear, using a blood test for tumor-associated antigens (TAAs). 

Newer research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine paired blood tests with other screening tests to determine whether finding and treating cancers identified by blood tests reduced mortality rates. Researchers said that “some screening may actually cause more harm than good.” And so, they used bloodwork with standard imaging procedures. 

Results were promising. Researchers concluded that there is hope for a blood test that could eventually reduce deaths from cancers that typically go undetected until late stages. But “any blood test needs to complement and add to standard-of-care screening because standard-of-care screening works.”

Current Standard-of-Care Screening

Current recommendations encourage most women to have a mammogram beginning at age 40. Here are the most recent guidelines on screening.

- compiled by My Virtual Physician

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My Virtual Physician can offers virtual gynecology services in many states. Women can talk with experts about individualized screening plans. Don’t worry about your risk. Talk to the doctor now.

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