Due to screening tools, such as mammography, breast cancer is being detected earlier than ever before. Women 40 years and older are advised to begin getting annual mammograms to monitor breast health and provide baseline imaging that can be used for comparison in the event that an abnormality is detected.
Mammography utilizes X-ray technology to capture images of the breast tissues that are not visible to the naked eye. This form of testing has been utilized since the 1960s and has been successful in diagnosing breast cancer early on before it becomes advanced. These images can show evidence of tumors and small calcifications that could indicate cancer. Two views are taken of each breast to provide the most comprehensive coverage of the breast tissues. If abnormalities are detected, further diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound or MRI, could be recommended.
In addition to annual mammograms, women also are encouraged to be aware of the look and feel of their breasts. Monthly self-exams can lead to the early detection of lumps or other breast abnormalities. However, experts have concluded that confining women to certain time frames and techniques for examining their breasts is not always beneficial. Instead, they recommend having an overall awareness of any changes and discussing them with a doctor as soon as they are noticed.
While there are no known preventative measures that can be taken to ensure breast cancer does not develop, certain factors, such as obesity, race and age, can increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer. Studies have shown that while white women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, African-American women have a higher risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer. In addition, family history of cancer is a significant factor that should always be disclosed to your doctor. Depending on the age a relative first developed breast cancer, a mammogram may be recommended sooner than 40 years of age.
There are significant warning signs that breast cancer may be developing. Swelling, warmth and redness of the breast, change in the shape and size of the breast, puckering or dimpling of the skin and lumps, knots or thickening of the tissue are all potential symptoms. In addition, abnormal discharge from the nipples and unresolved pain in a specific area are also indicators. If any of the symptoms occur it is important to consult with a physician.
Many healthcare providers offer affordable mammography services, such as Northern Nevada Medical Center’s Diagnostic Breast Care and Imaging Center. During the month of October NNMC if offering standard mammography services for $95, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
For more information on breast health, contact the Breast Care and Imaging Center at Northern Nevada Medical Center at 356-5800.
Randall Pierce, MD, earned his medical degree from U.C. San Francisco, and he completed his residency at U.C. San Diego. Dr. Pierce is Medical Director for Diagnostic Imaging at Northern Nevada Medical Center.