Understanding Breast Cancer -- Diagnosis & Treatment
Breast Self-Exams and Mammograms continued...
Several tests can help distinguish a benign lump from a cancerous tumor. Because malignant and benign lumps tend to have different physical features, imaging tests such as digital mammography, 3-D mammography, and ultrasound can often rule out cancer. The only way to confirm cancer is to perform a needle aspiration or a biopsy and to test the tissue sample for cancer cells.
An MRI of the breast is performed before surgery to look for other hidden tumors and to decide on the proper surgical technique. Other imaging tests like CT scans, PET scans, bone scans, or X-rays are not recommended to be done routinely in operable breast cancers unless clinical signs or symptoms of possible metastasis -- spreading of the cancer outside the breast -- are present.
Cancer cells are analyzed for the presence or absence of endocrine (estrogen and progesterone) receptors to find out if the cancer is likely to respond well to hormone therapy. Other tests, such as the her-2-neu oncogene test, can help predict the likelihood of metastasis and the potential for recurrence after treatment as well as help decide on treatment programs.
What Are the Treatments for Breast Cancer?
If you have breast cancer, the earlier you can get treatment, the better. But before making treatment decisions, research your options. Ask questions of your doctor, other specialists, and people who have had breast cancer. Find a doctor you trust, and don't rush your decision. A brief delay between diagnosis and treatment will not compromise the effectiveness of treatment.
Surgery for Breast Cancer
The treatment options for breast cancer depend on how advanced the cancer is, how old the woman is, and how healthy she is otherwise. If possible, breast cancer is treated surgically, followed usually by some combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or hormone therapy.
The standard surgery for breast cancer was once modified radical mastectomy -- removal of the entire breast and lymph nodes in the breast and under the arm. For many women whose breast cancer is detected early and is still localized, lumpectomy -- removal of the cancerous lump and testing key lymph nodes -- is now the preferred treatment. Followed by appropriate radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy, lumpectomy has proven as effective as mastectomy for early breast cancer and is much less disfiguring.