Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment


The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer has undergone many changes since the 1970's. The diagnosis of breast cancer is now often made on abnormalities seen on mammogram which are not noticeable on physical exam. These abnormalities can be biopsied in several ways using mammography to localize the abnormal spot for the surgeon. In some situations needle biopsies can be done to biopsy abnormalities without surgery.

In decades past, radical mastectomy used to be the treatment for breast cancer. This was an extensive procedure that would require about a week in the hospital. Radical mastectomy is rarely done at the present time.

The treatment has evolved to a lumpectomy followed by radiation treatments in most cases. This provides a superior cosmetic result with less discomfort. Often the entire surgical treatment can be done as an outpatient in a surgery center--avoiding hospitalization completely.

In order to take advantage of the newer, less extensive surgical procedures, early detection is important. The American Cancer Society recommends monthly breast self examination beginning at age 18; a yearly examination by a physician starting around age 30; and yearly mammography for women starting at age 40. All lumps that remain present for more than a month should be evaluated by a physician. Nipple discharge is not worrisome unless it is bloody.

The one factor that has the greatest impact on the chances of a woman developing breast cancer is a family history of breast cancer--particularly a sister or mother. In those situations earlier and more intensive surveillance is recommended.

Early detection has been shown to greatly improve survival statistics and often allows us to diagnose breast cancer before it becomes invasive--in other words, before it's really cancer and has the ability to spread.

So, be sure to follow your physician's recommendations regarding examinations and mammography and be sure to bring any abnormalities to your physician's attention.

For more information check out the Medscape website.