Adeline went to her doctor for her yearly checkup, which included her usual breast cancer screening. She was expecting nothing unusual. She had been feeling a little more tired lately and noticed her appetite had decreased, but thought it was from an increased workload at her job and the stress of her daughter entering her first year of college.
As she sat on the exam table at her doctor’s office, she noticed a look of concern on her doctor’s face. “How long has your nipple been indented like this Adeline?” Adeline looked down at her right breast and saw that her right nipple looked odd, not like the left one at all. Why hadn’t she noticed this before, she thought. Her entire right nipple was almost completely gone, having turned in on itself. She told her doctor she noticed it about two months ago, but did not think too much of it, chalking it up to getting older.
She had just had a mammogram, and was confident the mammogram would be enough to detect breast cancer, but was it? The doctor asked her to raise her right arm, and then began to gently poke and prod. After a thorough examination, Adeline’s doctor ordered a MRI.
This was the beginning of Adeline’s breast cancer journey, which included a double mastectomy, months of chemotherapy and radiation, lesions of burned skin from radiation, depression, and numerous medical bills. In spite of this, Adeline is on her way to a full recovery and a bright and long future.
Adeline received a mammogram three months before her breast cancer diagnosis. That is one of the most interesting aspects of Adeline’s journey and raises the question of whether a mammogram is enough to detect breast cancer. How many women, after having a mammogram, have received from their health care provider a letter stating, “We are pleased to inform you the results of your recent breast imaging examination are normal”? The answer is hundreds of thousands.
Women, and the population at large, are more aware than ever before of breast cancer, yet it would be wise to know what tests are available and whether it’s enough for the health of your breasts. Here, hopefully, is some valuable information you can utilize and if necessary, be prepared to discuss with your doctor.
Types of Tests:
- Mammogram – Screening and Diagnostic.
- Screening is typically for women with no symptoms of breast cancer; can also detect tumors or lumps which are difficult to feel; can also detect deposits of calcium which can be an early sign of breast cancer.
- Diagnostic – Diagnostic is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or tumor or another sign of breast cancer has been found.
- Ultrasound – Ultrasound can determine whether there are cysts, which essentially are fluid filled sacs in the breast which are not cancerous.
- MRI – An MRI is typically recommended for women who have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- CT Scan – Not typically used unless the breasts are very dense and if breast cancer is suspected; this exam gives the physician pictures in a two-dimensional “slice” of the various organs and parts of the body, and is often used to determine if a cancer has moved to another part of the body, such as the chest wall or lymph nodes, etc.
- Biopsy – The only sure-fire way to determine breast cancer is to have a biopsy, which is either done by taking a small sample of the breast tissue through a needle, or taking a small sample of the lump in the breast tissue. It is then sent to a lab where it can also be determined what type of cancer it is.
- Symptoms – Various
- Changes in breast size or shape of the breast
- Nipple changes or discharge from the breast
- Swelling in the armpit
- A painless lump in the breast
- Breast pain
- Breast skin becoming thick, red, and even “pitted” looking – like the skin of an orange
- Warm and tender skin in the breast area
- Rash on the breast
Pay attention to your body. Early detection is key in treating breast cancer, and recognize that having a mammogram may not be enough to detect breast cancer. Know your family history, know your body, pay attention, and if you see or feel anything unusual, do not hesitate to contact your doctor, and have that important conversation. Even if you think it’s nothing, it may be something, so check it out. Be sure, not sorry.
By Wendy Waring