of Breast Cancer
Early Detection of Breast Cancer
In this issue of the Health Gazette I am going to reproduce a patient
handout that was developed by The Florida Task Force on Early Diagnosis
of Breast Cancer and produced by The Florida Academy of Family Physicians
in conjunction with the Florida Early Diagnosis Steering Committee.
I think this handout is very informative. Breast cancer is one of the
more curable forms of cancer if it is caught early. If you have a breast
lump, it is important to pursue a diagnosis even if the mammogram is
normal. Up to 20 percent of breast cancers do not show up on mammograms.
The patient information handout is included in its entirety below.
Understanding Breast Lumps and Other Changes
Breast changes are a common event. They include those that normally
occur during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, as well as with aging.
Most breast lumps - eight out of ten - are not cancer, but only a doctor
can tell whether or not a condition is malignant (cancer) or benign
(not cancer). This handout explains how your doctor will evaluate your
breast lump and other breast changes.
A look inside the breast...
The breast consists of glandular tissue, fatty tissue, and fibrous tissue.
Each breast has 15-20 sections, called lobes, each with many smaller
lobules. The lobules end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can produce milk.
The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are all linked together by thin tubes
What could be causing the lump or other changes?
Occasionally the breast feels lumpy, but this is normal. Many women
experience swelling, tenderness, and pain before(and sometimes during)
their periods. Every woman should become familiar with how her breasts
feel by doing breast self-examination (BSE).
The following are some of the conditions the doctor will be considering:
1. Fibrocystic Changes - general breast lumpiness, which is benign.
2. Cysts - fluid-filled sacs. They occur most often in women 35-50 years
of age. The cysts often enlarge and become tender just before a woman's
menstrual period. Cysts are usually handled by observation or by withdrawing
fluid with a small needle.
3. Fibroadenomas - benign masses of tissue that do not contain fluid.
4. Cancer - when cells grow without control or order.
Breast pain - is it serious?
Breast pain is very common in premenopausal women. The pain can be shooting
to the nipple, burning, itching, or aching. One breast may hurt more
than the other. Usually it starts two weeks after menstruation and gets
worse until the beginning of your period. It gets better for two weeks,
then the cycle starts over. Breast pain is more common in women in their
30s and 40s, and lessens after menopause. If you have pain or soreness
with a lump or redness, you should call your doctor immediately.
How does the doctor evaluate the lump or other breast changes?
Your physician will evaluate your breast changes using a combination
of a breast examination, mammography, ultrasound, and/or biopsy. Although
no one of these procedures is 100% accurate, when combined they will
usually diagnose your condition correctly. Therefore, you, your personal
doctor, your radiologist, and your surgeon need to work together as
What is mammography?
A mammogram uses a weak Xray to take pictures of the breast. The breast
is compressed between two plastic plates and two x-ray pictures are
made of each breast. The mammogram is read by a radiologist who will
give you and your physician the results. A mammogram is 85-90 % accurate.
Therefore, 10-15 % of cancers cannot be seen by mammogram.
There are two types of mammograms:
1. Screening Mammogram - for women without a breast problem(every woman
over the age of 40 should have a screening mammogram on a regular basis).
2. Diagnostic or Complete Mammogram - for women with a lump or other
Some women worry about the effects of radiation from a mammogram. Nowadays,
the amount of radiation received is less than what we get from a chest
Xray. A mammogram can cause some discomfort due to compression of the
breast. If a woman has tender breasts, it is best to have the mammogram
done after menstruation when the breasts are less tender.
What is ultrasound?
Ultrasound is used for women under 30 years old, or as a complement
to mammography. It is used if a mammogram shows a change that needs
to be diagnosed as a real mass or fibrosis. If it is a real mass, ultrasound
can distinguish a benign cyst from a solid mass that may need to be
biopsied. Also, ultrasound is used when the mammogram is normal, but
an abnormality is detected through a physical examination.
What is a biopsy?
Often, the best way to find out the cause of your condition is to have
a small piece of tissue removed from the breast and sent to the laboratory
to be examined under a microscope. There are four types of biopsies:
1. Fine Needle Aspiration - a thin needle is inserted into the suspect
tissue and some cells are removed.
2. Core Biopsy - a larger needle removes a small piece of tissue.
3. Incisional Biopsy - a surgeon removes only a slice or wedge of the
4. Excisional Biopsy - the surgeon removes the entire lump and some
of the surrounding tissue.
A final word...
Breast lumps and changes can be frightening. Remember that most lumps
and changes are normal, and often disappear on their own. Every lump
that does not go away on its own, or is not filled with fluid needs
to be further evaluated. Some lumps and changes are more difficult to
diagnose, and require several tests. It may take several weeks to reach
a final diagnosis. Waiting for the results causes anxiety, but is the
best way to avoid unnecessary surgery.
Alert the doctor to changes you notice in your breasts, and be sure
to follow the doctor's recommendations for follow-up procedures. You
should be advised of all test results, and feel free to ask any questions
The information provided above is offered as a community service about
health-care issues and is not a substitute for individual consultation.
Advice on individual problems should be obtained from your personal
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Readers may send questions to our
email address. This column is for informational purposes only and
is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.
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