How Can Breast Cancer Be Detected and Diagnosed As Early As Possible?
Breast cancer is sometimes discovered after physical symptoms such as a small lump appear. However, many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. One reason why breast cancer screening is very important is to ensure breast cancer is detected and diagnosed as early as possible.
The American Cancer Society recommends detecting and diagnosing breast cancer early and getting cancer treatment as the most important strategies to ensure survival from breast cancer. This is because when breast cancer is detected and diagnosed early – when it’s small and has not spread – is easier to treat successfully. Getting regular breast cancer screening tests, such as a mammogram or breast ultrasound, is the most reliable way to detect breast cancer early. Screening refers to tests used to find a disease in people who don’t have any symptoms. The goal of a screening test for breast cancer is to find it before the disease causes symptoms (such as a lump that can be felt).
- Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.
- Women 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms. Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
These guidelines are for women at average risk for breast cancer – women who are at a higher risk for breast cancer have different guidelines. A woman at average risk does not have a personal history of breast cancer, a family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as BRCA), and has not had chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.
The American Cancer Society’s guidelineswere created so that “all women [can] understand what a mammogram can and cannot do”.
Mammograms are not perfect and have known limitations, this is of particular concern to women with abnormal imaging results and if they have increased breast density. Women with an abnormal finding on mammograms may need additional testing to determine if the finding is benign or cancer. These tests can range from extra imaging, such as ultrasound, tomosynthesis and breast MRI, or a more invasive procedure, such as a biopsy. These tests are often more invasive and costly. There is also a possibility of being over diagnosed, which occurs when a cancer diagnosis is made for a lesion that ultimately would not cause a problem.
For abnormal or unclear imaging findings, it begs the question: can we improve breast cancer detection by incorporating additional information to accompany mammogram results? Perhaps, these guidelines help to demonstrate the need for a diagnostic complement to imaging, that can help breast cancer be detected and diagnosed at the earliest stage. If a diagnostic tool, such as a liquid biopsy was added to the current standard-of-care, women who obtain unclear imaging results and have dense breasts would be able to gain a definitive diagnosis, based on physiology rather than anatomy alone. A complement to imaging could reduce supplementary follow-up procedures and thus, reduce costs to patients, healthcare professionals and the healthcare system as a whole. If we were to combine a blood-based approach to breast imaging, we would improve the detection of breast cancer and as noted previously, earlier detection is directly correlated to increased survival.