by Mona Jhaveri - November 17, 2021

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women. Detection and survivorship statistics for breast cancer are vital to know because they help you better understand what to expect if you’re ever diagnosed with breast cancer.

Cancers are typically found after symptoms arise, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms at all. Screening tests are essential for early detection and can mean the difference between living and dying from breast cancer.

This blog post will cover everything you need to know about breast cancers:

  • Who should be screened for them regularly.
  • What common diagnostic procedures exist.
  • What the new diagnostic technologies are, and more.

Screening Tests

Screening is regularly performed on women who are at increased risk (have more risk factors) but do not have any symptoms of breast cancer. Breast screening is recommended for all women 40 years and older on a regular basis (annually).

Women between the ages 40 and 44 have this option. Women between 45 and 54 should get screened every year. It is recommended that women older than 55 get screened every other year. Breast screening is usually performed using a mammogram, which uses low-dose x-rays to show the breast tissue and detect any abnormalities.

If something abnormal is found during a screening test, the woman is usually sent to further diagnostic procedures, such as other imaging tests and biopsies.

Diagnostic Procedures

A health care provider relies on many diagnostic procedures to determine if a person has breast cancer or not. Breast cancer detection begins with imaging tests, which are used to create images of the breasts so that doctors can look closely for abnormalities (changes in the structure and lumps).

If something suspicious is found, a biopsy will be scheduled to take samples from the area to identify if it’s cancer or not. As of yet, breast cancer cannot be confirmed without a biopsy.

Imaging Tests

  • Diagnostic mammography

In essence, diagnostic mammography isn’t all that different from screening mammography. The only differences are the intention of the test and that more pictures of the breast are taken.

Breast cancer detection during a diagnostic mammogram further investigates why someone is experiencing breast pain, changes in their breasts that are concerning, or other symptoms present that could indicate something more severe than just normal tissue growth.

  • Ultrasound

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to generate an image of the internal organs. Breast cancer detection is commonly performed with ultrasound because it’s noninvasive, painless, and relatively inexpensive compared to other imaging tests. Ultrasound can also show if there are any suspicious masses in the breast that require a biopsy. It can differentiate between solid masses and fluid-filled cysts, which are usually not cancerous.

  • MRI

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging and is a test that uses electromagnetic waves to produce detailed images of the internal organs. Breast cancer detection isn’t the main purpose of an MRI, but it can be used as another tool for identifying suspicious lumps or masses in the breast tissue. It is a screening option for women with a high risk of breast cancer, but it is not typically used as a primary imaging test.

  • New imaging technologies

New types of imaging tests are either still being studied or are already available in specific health facilities. These potential technologies of the future include molecular breast imaging (MBI, scintimammography, or breast-specific gamma imaging), positron emission mammography (PEM), contrast-enhanced mammography (CEM), electrical impedance imaging (EIT), and elastography.

Biopsy

Without a biopsy, one can’t know for sure if they have cancer or not. When an imaging test shows something suspicious, a biopsy is necessary to determine if the mass or lump that’s present is cancerous.

A biopsy includes removing tissue samples from the breast. Breast biopsies can be done in a few different ways, such as:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA). A thin, hollow needle is inserted into the lump, and suction pulls out cells which are examined under a microscope. This test doesn’t require any recovery time or stitches to close it.
  • Core needle biopsy. A larger, hollow needle is inserted into the lump, and tissue samples are collected that can be used for the diagnosis of cancerous cells.
  • Surgical biopsy. Breast tumors located near the collarbone or underarm may require an open procedure biopsy, which is a surgical incision to remove the tissue sample.

Alongside the breast biopsy, a doctor might also need a lymph node biopsy which is done in order to determine the spread of the primary breast cancer. Breast tissue has lymph nodes that are connected with it, so if there’s a possibility that breast cancer cells could have traveled through them, this test can help identify involvement by looking for abnormal cell growth within the lymph node samples.

After diagnosis and staging (that determines how far cancer has spread), treatment can begin. According to the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer survivorship is the period of time after diagnosis and before death during which a person experiences the beneficial effects of therapy, such as disease-free survival (DFS) or overall survival (OS).

Breast Cancer Survivorship

According to a 2017 study published in the British Journal of General Practice, even though the incidence of breast cancer has risen by 6% in the last decade, breast cancer mortality rates have been on a steady decline. Around 80% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer have a projected survival of over ten years.

Breast cancer survivors can have a varied quality of life; it largely depends on where the cancer was located and how far it has spread.

One of the most common side effects of breast cancer treatment includes early menopause and menopausal symptoms for premenopausal women. Certain breast cancer treatments affect the ovaries, causing them to stop producing estrogen. This process often results in menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.

Breast cancer survivors may also suffer from lower bone density or osteopenia as a result of lower estrogen levels in the body, mood swings, fatigue, hair loss (alopecia), and nausea.

Breast cancer treatment can cause a decrease in the size of breasts which can cause significant psychological effects for many women, especially those who had their mastectomy performed to avoid recurrence of breast cancer or due to an aggressive cancer type.

Conclusion

Breast cancer screening is a must for women over the age of 40. It typically includes yearly mammography tests and clinical breast exams. High-risk women might even need special MRI tests to scan for tumors.

Detection is the process of identifying breast lumps present in the breasts that are concerning enough to need a biopsy (to remove tissue samples) and examine them under a microscope.

Screening imaging tests can show something suspicious, but further testing by way of mammogram or ultrasound must be done to make an accurate diagnosis for treatment. 

Breast or lymph node biopsies can be done through needle aspiration, core biopsy (requires stitches), or surgical incision.

Breast cancer survival rates are relatively high for patients diagnosed with early-stage cancer; however, it’s essential to have regular screenings so any detected lumps can be analyzed as soon as possible.

New cancer prevention, screening, diagnostic, and treatment technologies are being developed every single day. Join our battle against breast cancer by choosing one of our active research campaigns to donate now.

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