All you need to know about breast screening… an essential part of every woman’s life and health!
The goal of breast screening is to detect breast lumps and find a potential cancer before it spreads and starts to cause symptoms.
The term screening refers to examinations and tests used to find a disease like cancer in people who do not have any symptoms or signs, or who have not noticed any breast changes.
The earlier a breast cancer is found, the better the long-term outcome.
Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer can save many thousands of lives each year.
The guidelines for breast-cancer screening differ in different countries, but generally include the following:
Screening 1: Breast self-examination (BSE)
BSE is something women can start doing in their 20s. It has both benefits and limitations.
If you do a BSE on a regular basis, you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel and can notice changes more easily. Any worrying changes should be reported to your health professional.
Screening 2: Clinical breast examination (CBE)
Women should have CBE as part of their regular examination by a health expert at least every 3 years from their 20s and 30s. After age 40, women should have a CBE every year.
A registered nurse or doctor can perform a CBE. At Cape Breast Care, we offer CBE and risk assessment.
Screening 3: Mammogram
Women over 40 should ask their doctor how often to go for a mammogram.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that uses very low levels of radiation. The breast is flattened between 2 X-ray plates during the process. While this may be uncomfortable, it only lasts a few moments and is required to get a good picture. The pressure does not damage the breast tissue.
Mammograms are a very good way to find breast cancer, including the “in situ” cancers, i.e., cancers that are not yet invasive. However, mammograms can miss some cancers. It is therefore important that you also have a clinical breast examination (as explained above) – in addition to the mammogram – as part of your breast screening.
In women under 50 or those who have very dense breast tissue, a breast ultrasound may be done along with a mammogram.
Mammograms and breast ultrasounds are done by radiologists at radiology practices. They usually require a referral in the form of a request form from your referring doctor in order to make a booking.
At Cape Breast Care, we do not do mammograms or breast ultrasounds, but we would be happy to refer you to a unit to do these tests, if indicated based on your clinical breast examination with us.
Find more information on mammograms here.
Women at high risk
Women who have a higher risk of breast cancer should discuss with their doctor the best approach for them. This may mean starting mammograms when they are younger, having extra screening tests or more frequent examinations.