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A Complete Guide on Screening for the Commonest Cancer among Females!

Updated on September 12, 2011

Breast cancer is the commonest cancer among women, accounting for 22.9% of all cancers among women worldwide and resulting in 13.7% of cancer related deaths all over the world. Due the over all aging of the population of the world, the prevalence of breast cancer is expected to rise even further. Healthy individuals (particularly women) can be screened, in order to detect breast cancer and the precancerous lesions of breasts at an early stage so that interventions can be made to treat the disease at an early stage so that distant spread and extensive therapeutic interventions (which have many side effects) can be avoided. Though, this is a must for those women who have at least to risk factors mentioned in the hub linked below, it is advisable for any female to undergo screening of breasts for cancer.

What are the methods of screening for breast cancer?

1. Self examination of the breasts

2. Examination by a  professional (specialized in screening for breast cancer)

3. Mammography

4. Tests for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes

5. Molecular breast screening

1. Self Examination of the breasts

It is important for every female to know how to screen their breasts for cancer after puberty. This should be performed as a routine in every month. The examination should be performed in four different instances to increase the rate of detection.

a) While bathing – the breasts should be palpated (touched) with soap applied lightly over the breasts. This allows the changes in consistency of the breasts and the texture of the skin to be felt easily.

b) In front of a mirror – the breasts should be inspected (observed) while standing in front of a mirror, for any changes in the size, shape, colour and the texture of the skin. The nipples should also be inspected for asymmetry and changes of shape. It is advisable to do this inspection while the arms dropping on either side of the body, while the arms raised and while the hands pressing on the hips on either side.

c) While lying flat (supine) – the breasts should be palpated (touched) while lying on a bed facing the ceiling. Each breast should be palpated in a circular manner starting from the nipple and going circularly to the periphery until the whole breast is palpated. The nipple should also be squeezed to see whether any discharges can be expressed.

d) Palpating the axillae (armpits) – the armpits should be palpated to check for enlarged or tender (painful to touch) lymph nodes.

Abnormalities detected during self examination of the breast should always be confirmed by examination by a physician or a healthcare professional trained in screening for breast disease. This is important to exclude the benign (non-cancerous) breast disease which can also present with almost all the features of breast cancer, except for the features due to distant spread. In addition, every clinical interview in a woman over the age of 35 years should be used as an opportunity to screen for breast cancer.

2. Mammography

The special task force formed to minimize morbidity due to breast cancer, recommended performing mammography in all the women from 50 years to 70 years of age, once in every 2 years to detect the premalignant (before becoming cancer) stages of breast cancer. This is a set of simple X-ray films of the breast, imaging the breast tissue. However, the disadvantages include, pain during the procedure, the relatively high cost compared to clinical examination and the small increased risk of developing breast cancer due to the exposure to radiation.

3. Tests for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 Genes

BRCA genes put the individuals at a very high risk of developing breast cancer. Therefore, individuals who have a very high likelihood of having one of the genes should be screened. If an individual is found to have the gene, it is recommended to perform prophylactic mastectomy (removal of the breast) on both sides, with breast implantation (e.g. – silicon) as the risk is very high.

4. Molecular Breast Screening

This method of screening is yet at the level of research but may emerge very soon. With molecular screening, women who are at a higher risk of developing breast cancer can be easily recognized so that they can be followed-up more frequently or if the risk appears to be very high, prophylactic mastectomy performed.

Screening for breast cancer is a very important concept, which had lead to saving many women with progressing into advanced breast cancer and by that saving many years of life which would have been spent with the cancer, its complications and the side effects of the treatment. This also gives reassurance to healthy women. As a result, breast cancer screening is said to be one f the most successful screening programs world wide like the screening program for cervical cancer.


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    • Nadeeshan301 profile image

      Chathurika Dhanasekara 6 years ago from Kandy - Sri Lanka

      Dear Sueswan and Rooskaya, your encouraging comments always make us keep writing. Thank you!

    • Rooskaya profile image

      Rooskaya 6 years ago from Russia

      Thanks for sharing with us a very informative hub for women. Voted up.

    • profile image

      Sueswan 6 years ago

      Hi Nadeeshan

      Very informative and useful.

      Thank you for publishing this hub.

      Voted up and awesome.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 6 years ago from The Caribbean

      Voted up! Good information and clear instructions for women.

    • Nadeeshan301 profile image

      Chathurika Dhanasekara 6 years ago from Kandy - Sri Lanka

      Dear VENZKHVAM,

      Thank you for adding some useful tips to our hub on screening for breast cancer. Actually, it was on one of our hubs on the features and risk factors of breast cancer:

      that you have commented about the need for emphasizing on self screening for breast cancer.

      We are planing to discuss about the investigations and treatment options available for breast cancer in detail in a separate hub.

      Thank you again and we very much appreciate your comments!

    • Nadeeshan301 profile image

      Chathurika Dhanasekara 6 years ago from Kandy - Sri Lanka

      Dear Heather McMillan,

      As I will be explaining in my next hub to come on investigations and treatment of breast cancer, mammogram is suitable as a diagnostic tool only above 35 years of age. The high density of young breast tissue disturb the proper visualization of the tumour or microcalcifications (a feature of a precancerous lesion of the breast). Ultrasound scan is the best modality of investigation at this age group.

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us and the readers of this hub! You are most welcome for future comments on our hubs!

    • VENZKHVAM profile image

      VENZKHVAM 6 years ago from Milk way galaxy, trying to find a more adventurous place in another galaxy with my great followers

      There is 12 million new cancer cases every year through out the world.

      One of the reason is junk food.and sedentary life style.

      Cancer cell oriented drug molecules are already under invention and trials and testing.

      I was just mentioning in the other hub that self examination of breast need to be put in HER HUB. And another half an hour reading hubs i found it in you.

      It is very good you put like that. Many young woman will be benefited out of this examination in finding the possibilities of breast cancer in the early stages to eradicate it safely.

    • Heather McMillan profile image

      Heather McMillan 6 years ago from Hampton, VA

      I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 24 but my tumor was not discovered by a mammogram. Because of my age and the fact that my breast were so dense a ultrasound was done instead and the tumor was seen very clearly. Interesting hub, voted up!