CHENNAI: While a mammogram is considered to be the best way to detect breast cancer early, it’s important for all women to be ‘breast aware’ from age 20 and maintain a self-checking routine before starting regular mammograms. Getting to know how their breasts normally look and feel will help them notice any changes, feels Dr Bhagyam Raghavan, senior consultant (Radiology) of Apollo Specialty Hospital, Chennai.
The good news is that most breast lumps are not cancerous. What’s more, the survival rate of breast cancer is generally good, if it’s found and treated early. Anyone worried about changes to their breasts, must see their doctor straight away.
While a mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer early, it’s important for all women to be ‘breast aware’ from the age of 20 and maintain a self-checking routine before they start regular mammograms at the age of 40. It’s important for a woman to know how one’s breasts normally look and feel so that she is more aware of changes.
Lumps can feel hard and irregular, or they can feel smooth. A suspicious lump is usually hard and irregular in shape…a bit like a raisin. It may be attached to the surrounding tissue or skin, so it doesn’t move around easily. A non-cancerous lump feels more like a grape (smooth edges and more rounded); however, if a woman finds any unusual lumps, she must without fail get them checked by a doctor without delay.
Women must carry out breast self-checks from the age of 20. Women who carry out regular breast self-checks become aware of what their breasts normally look and feel like, and are more likely to notice unusual changes.
Ideal places to check one’s breasts are:
In front of a mirror
In the shower or bath
A screening mammogram is the best method for the early detection of unsuspected breast cancer in women who have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer. A mammogram is a low dose X-ray of the breast which can detect a tumour when it’s tiny, well before a lump or other symptoms appear. As the risk of breast cancer increases with age, a screening mammogram is recommended every year for women aged between 40 and 49 and every two years for women from the age of 50 onwards. A high risk woman should discuss with her doctor the age at which she should commence annual diagnostic mammograms. She needs to tell the doctor if a family history of breast cancer exists.
Women should consult their doctor without delay, if they have the slightest concern about their breasts. For women who are 50 years of age and above, it is advisable to have a clinical breast examination in-between their two yearly screening mammograms. At any age however, a woman needs to have one if they’re concerned about any unusual breast changes. The doctor should be made aware of any personal risk, particularly if a woman has had a previous personal history of breast or ovarian cancer, or a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or an at-risk lesion, for example, atypical ductal hyperplasia.
Women must be encouraged to make breast awareness part of their life. Screening mammography, breast self-checks and discussing any breast concerns or changes, without delay, with the doctor…all contribute to the likelihood of detecting breast cancer early.
(The author is Consultant Radiologist & Department-in-Charge at Apollo Specialty Hospitals, Chennai)