Breast Cancer is the number one type of cancer affecting women in the Philippines. We have all been hearing about the importance of detecting cancer while it is early so that the chances of cure will be higher. Women are admonished to undergo breast cancer screening once we hit the age of 40 or earlier if we have a very strong family history. A “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” was even established to remind people of its importance.
Screening Tests for Breast Cancer
There are different ways involved in our quest to detect breast cancer very early. There is the Self-Breast Exam wherein a woman is adviced to examine her own breasts for the purpose to checking whether a mass is growing but more so that the woman is able to know the feel of her breasts. This makes it easier to detect changes, especially for any new growth.
There is also the annual breast exam by a physician (Clinical Breast Exam). The assumption here is that a physician is more knowledgeable than the patient as to how the growing mass feels during palpation and he is better able to distinguish this new growth from the rest of the breast tissue.
The current gold standard among all the tests for breast cancer screening is the Mammography. This test uses low dose x-ray to examine the breasts in more detail. During this procedure, the entire breast is pressed against 2 opposing plates then radiation is applied. The purpose of this is to evenly distribute breast tissue for proper visualization. The image produced is then captured on a film (conventional mammography) or by detectors before being recorded on a film (digital mammography).
For the general population, the current recommendation is for women to undergo mammography every year once she reaches the age of 40. If there is a family history of breast cancer especially in a first degree relative (mother, daughter, sibling), the patient should undergo breast cancer screening 10 years earlier than the age of the index case (Ex. A mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44. Her daughter will be advised to undergo screening at the age of 34).