Know the warning signs of breast cancer

IMAGE: www.northcountryhospital.org

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), one in every 29 women in South Africa is likely to get breast cancer. The earlier breast cancer is detected and treated, the better the prognosis.

Warning signs:

Some of the early warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • The discovery of a lump (most common)
  • Persistent breast pain or altered sensation
  • Persistent discharge from the nipple
  • Bleeding from the nipple
  • Recent skin changes such as dimpling
  • Tethering or puckering
  • Retraction of the nipple ( pulled inwards )
  • Swelling of breast or arm and or lymph gland swelling under arm or above clavicle.

According to specialist diagnostic radiologists, Jackpersad and Partners, a monthly self breast examination and an annual clinical examination by your doctor, together with an annual mammogram, aids in detecting breast cancer early. A mammogram can pick up breast cancer five years before a lump is actually felt. Breast self-examinations should be done 10 to 14 days after the start of menstrual periods. This helps you get familiar with the normal texture of your breasts.  As soon as one notices a change, they should consult a doctor immediately.

Mammograms:

  • A mammogram is a low dose x-ray system that is specifically designed to x ray the breast.
  • Mammograms can be used for screening or diagnosis of breast cancers.
  • The goal of screening mammography is to detect a cancer before it can be felt.
  • Diagnostic mammograms are performed in symptomatic women to determine exact site and size of the abnormality.
  • An ultrasound of the breasts may also be done to determine whether a mass is solid or cystic.
  • The best time to have a mammogram is seven to 10 days after your period.
  • On the day of the mammogram do not use any deodorant, powder or body lotion, as this can cause artefacts which simulate cancer and can lead to unnecessary biopsies.
  • Breast cancer survival rates have shown steady improvement because of better breast awareness, early detection through screening and targeted treatments.

The mammography procedure:

  • The patient will be required to remove all clothing and jewellery from waist upwards and wear a gown provided by the surgery.
  • A mammographer will position and image the breasts. Some patients may find the procedure uncomfortable and painful.
  • The examination process usually lasts 40 minutes.
  • A specialist radiologist, who specialises in the field of mammography, may find it necessary to perform an ultrasound examination of the breasts and will also interpret the images and provide a report.

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