Breast screening - early detection is key
A Specialists Insight: Dr Elisabeth Rippy
Dr Elisabeth Rippy, Breast Surgeon
It has been a difficult few months for everyone on top of a few difficult years. Breast Cancer awareness month is a timely reminder to start looking after ourselves after months of lockdown. Breast screening has reduced breast cancer mortality by 20-25% in some studies and there has never been a better time to get screened. Show yourself a little appreciation and get that mammogram.
Self examination is a useful way to get to know what your breasts normally feel like. Breasts are all different and no two are alike. Are yours lumpy, smooth, soft, or firm? When you examine your breasts you are feeling for anything different or new. Signs of breast cancer are new lumps in the breast or armpit, breast thickening or swelling, skin dimpling, nipple discharge, and/or a change in the look of your breast.
If you have any of these you need to see your GP and consider getting some imaging of your breast. Mammogram is usually the first thing we do, but if you are young, an ultrasound might be used first. Finally a biopsy may be done to get a tiny sample of the area to be looked at under the microscope by the pathologist to give an accurate diagnosis. This is called the Triple Test. There are variations in the type of imaging, for example MRI of the breast or digital subtraction mammogram can be done, as well as variations in the type of biopsy but the three pillars of examination, imaging and biopsy remain the same and are the gold standard for breast cancer diagnosis.
In 2020, there were 20,030 breast cancers in Australia. The 5 year survival is 92% and early diagnosis is key. Early diagnosis often gives you more surgical options and can reduce the number of treatments necessary to cure you. It also increases the likelihood that you will be cured. As we come out of lockdown, there has never been a better time to get that mammogram.