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Expert approval by Dr. Erin Macrae
Written by Abigail Hofmeister
Screening techniques(SKREE-NING TEK-NEEKS) — A procedure used to discover a disease at an early stage are tests that are used to find a disease or condition at an early stage. There are many screening techniques specifically designed to find breast cancer. The four main screening techniques available are self-examination(SELF IG-ZAM-IN-A-SHUN) — Using your hands to feel for abnormal tissue in your breast, clinical examination(KLIN-EH-COAL IG-ZAM-IN-A-SHUN) — Medical professional feeling for abnormal tissue in the breast, mammography(MAM-MAH-GROW-FEE) — A screening test that uses x-rays to look for breast cancer, and MRI(M-R-I) - A loud banging machine that uses magnets to obtain pictures of the inside of the body; magnetic resonance imaging. Each of these methods uses a different approach to examine and evaluate breast tissue(TISH-YOU) — The accumulation of cells that make up parts of the body, like organs.
Related Article: 6 Questions You Might Have About Cancer Screening
A self-examination is when you feel for abnormal(AB-NOR-MOL) — Something that is not supposed to happen tissue in your own breast. Clinician examination is when your doctor performs the examination of the breast. These exams will likely only find a large mass(MAS) — An abnormal growth or tissue. The smallest mass you or your doctor can feel is about an inch in diameter, or the size of a large grape.
Although self-exams(SELF IG-ZAMS) — Using your hands to feel for abnormal tissue in your breast don’t always find a breast mass, you should still perform a self-exam once a month.
Here's more about why you shouldn't rely on self-exams to find breast cancer.
A mammogram(MAM-O-GRAM) — A screening test that uses x-rays to look for breast cancer is an x-ray(EX-RAY) — Energy particles that pass through tissue to obtain an image of the body of your breast. The x-ray is used to differentiate between normal and abnormal tissue. In order to take a picture of the breast, a radiology technician(RAY-DE-ALL-O-GEE TEK-NEH-SHUN) — A medical professional who performs the tests that obtains x-ray images puts the breast in a breast holder. Sometimes this machine can be uncomfortable, but it allows a doctor or radiologist(RAY-DEE-OL-O-JIST) — A doctor who interprets or reads images of the body to see the breast tissue better.
Mammograms are well-proven to find breast cancer early and can improve your chances of beating breast cancer if done regularly. It is recommended that women over the age of 50 (sometimes 40) should receive a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. However, recommendations are specific to each patient. So, talk with your doctor about when you should start receiving mammograms and how often you should be screened.
Do you know these 6 extremely important things about mammograms? Find out.
An MRI is a very thorough screening test for breast cancer. An MRI is a big machine that doctors use to get really detailed pictures of the inside of your body. It is a loud, powerful magnet that makes water particles dance. Contrast dye(CON-TRAST DIE) — A chemical injected into the body to highlight blood flow is used to help the radiologist differentiate a tumor(TOO-MER) — Abnormal growth in the body from normal breast tissue. The dye can show increased blood flow, indicating that you may have a tumor.
MRIs are recommended as screening in certain situations, such as for high-risk patients (like those with a BRCA gene mutation(BRAK-AH JEAN MU-TAY-SHUN) — An abnormal or mutated breast cancer gene that is passed down from parent to child and is associated with an increased chance of developing breast cancer and other cancers or history of chest radiation(CHEST RAY-DEE-A-SHUN) — An area of the chest that has been previously treated with radiation which suggests a higher risk for future breast cancer) or for women who have dense(DENSE) — Tissue that is firm and hard to compress (firm) breasts.
Let’s think about these tests a little differently. Imagine standing on a second-floor balcony overlooking a garden.
The garden is lush and crowded with flowers, but you are trying to find a single dandelion in the mix. You want to find the dandelion quickly before it grows and spreads to other parts of the garden or yard. But it’s hard to find because the other flowers drown out the single dandelion. It’s just as hard to find a small mass in your breast through a self-examination and clinician examination.
Since you were unable to spot the single dandelion from the balcony, the next step is to walk down into the garden. When standing in the garden, you can see all of the flowers more clearly. A mammogram is very similar to this view. You are able to look at each flower more closely without moving them much. But unfortunately, you can still miss a dandelion that is covered by other flowers.
If you wanted to make sure they're still weren’t any dandelions in the garden, you would need help to spot the ones hiding under the others. Wouldn’t it be cool if dandelions had glow-in-the-dark paint on them so when it got dark, all of the dandelions, even the smallest ones, would light up? You could then remove them quickly before they spread. Although this isn’t possible with dandelions, it is possible with cancer. The contrast dye used during an MRI is like the glow-in-the-dark paint, highlighting tumors in the breast.
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