In the United States, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer that affects women. In other parts of the world, breast cancer remains to be one of the leading causes of death from cancer. In the year 2008, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 died from it in the same year. For the year 2012, the American Cancer Society estimates almost 227,000 new cases of invasive type of breast cancer in women, about 63,000 cases of non-invasive type (carcinoma in situ or CIS) of breast cancer, and almost 40,000 breast cancer deaths in women.
As with any other disease, early screening is important in breast cancer. It is easy to treat cancer of the breast if it is still in its early stages since the cancer hasn’t spread and affected other parts of the body. Breast cancer screening involves checking the breasts for cancer before there are manifestations of signs and symptoms. Breast cancer symptoms may not always be evident especially during the early stages of cancer and the disease may only be detected upon a breast screening examination.
Tests for Breast Cancer Detection
There are three main exams used to screen for breast cancer. This includes a breast self examination, clinical breast examination, and mammography.
Breast Self Examination (BSE)
A breast self examination can be done by women 20 years of age and older. It is done on the same day each month in women who are not menstruating and a few days after the end of the period in women who still have their menstruation. A BSE can help detect cancerous and noncancerous problems of the breast like cysts by looking at the appearance of the breast and by examining the breasts with the hands. Any changes should be reported to a health professional as soon as possible so that it can be properly evaluated.
Clinical Breast Examination (CBE)
A clinical breast examination is a physical examination of the breasts done by a doctor, nurse, or other health professionals. A CBE should be done at least every three years as part of the periodic health assessment in women during their 20’s and 30’s and yearly CBE once a woman reaches 40 years of age. Clinical breast examination is usually done as a complement to a mammogram test.
Mammography is a test that involves taking an x-ray of the breast. Mammograms are considered to be the best method of breast cancer screening since it can detect cancer in its early stages. According to the National Cancer Institute, women older than 40 years of age should undergo a mammogram every 1 to 2 years while women with a high risk for breast cancer may need to get screening earlier and more often depending on the doctor’s assessment.
Is Breast Self Examination Enough?
Given the three types of tests commonly done to screen for breast cancer, breast self examination shows the least value when it comes to detecting cancer according to research. Some women become too concerned with the right way to do BSE that they tend to get stressed over the technique to use. It is important for women who prefer to do BSE to have their technique in performing breast self examination evaluated by a health professional to ensure that they are doing it correctly.
While breast self examination used to be recommended by many health groups, several studies have shown lack of evidence to support or reject this method of breast cancer screening. The National Cancer Institute and US Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend nor discourage breast self examination while the American Cancer Society’s BSE guidelines focus more on being aware of the breasts’ physical appearance to detect any changes.
Mammography is still considered the best test to screen for breast cancer. Going to the doctor regularly for screening can help detect cancer before it gets worse and can literally save your life from breast cancer.