The diagnosis of breast cancer, just like any other cancer, if done at an early stage, can increase the patient's survival rates. The reason is that with early detection, it is possible to treat breast cancer with excellent clinical outcomes, improving the patient's survival chances and quality of life.
There are various tests and examinations that can help in the diagnosis of breast cancer. However, the selection of the test depends on different aspects. These factors include the initial symptoms of breast cancer, the type of cancer suspected, the patient's age and overall health, and the results of any prior medical tests conducted.
Here are the commonly recommended tests for breast cancer detection:
A breast exam is a method for early detection of breast cancer. During this test, the doctor checks the patient's breasts and lymph nodes above the arms and collarbone for any lumps, changes in the size or shape of the breast, or any other kind of abnormality.
A breast cancer mammogram involves X-ray imaging of the breasts, during which the technician will look for abnormalities in the tissues or areas of the breast. Physicians use mammograms for early-stage breast cancer diagnosis, as this is one of the most effective procedures for breast cancer diagnosis.
There are mainly two types of mammograms: a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram. The screening mammogram is used to check for any initial signs of cancer before the appearance of any symptoms.
The diagnostic mammogram, on the other hand, is used to examine the breast tissue in detail, and it is usually recommended after women start experiencing breast cancer symptoms or if the screening mammogram reports any anomalies.
One of the common methods used for the detection of breast cancer is an ultrasound scan. When talking about how to detect breast cancer, many experts consider this method to be one of the most effective tests for breast cancer diagnosis. The breast ultrasound uses sound waves and echoes to produce detailed images of the internal structures of the breast.
When the imaging tests show that a patient might have breast cancer, the oncologist may suggest a biopsy. During the biopsy, the doctor may collect a sample of breast tissue to test it for the presence of cancerous cells. Biopsy is regarded as a highly effective method for the diagnosis of breast cancer.
Another method used for the detection of breast cancer is breast magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. During an MRI, a dye is injected into the patient's vein in the arm, which creates images of the breast. These clear images are helpful in reflecting any kind of abnormality in the breast.
Apart from diagnostic tests, doctors also recommend additional tests to study the behavior of breast cancer cells. These additional tests help specialists devise a personalized care plan for each breast cancer case. Here are the tests doctors perform to study the cancerous cells present in the breast:
As estrogen and progesterone receptors are known to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells, doctors often conduct this test. As the name suggests, this test is used to look for receptors that can easily attach to the estrogen and progesterone hormones in the breast cancer tissue sample. This test helps determine if hormone therapy would be an effective treatment option.
Doctors conduct this test to check whether the breast cancer is HER-2 positive or not. HER-2, or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, is a protein that promotes breast cancer cells' growth. This test helps determine if target therapy would be an effective treatment option.
Multigene testing is a test conducted to study multiple genes in one test. The test is helpful for genetic breast cancer. This test is mainly used for checking a patient's risk of developing cancer or getting more information on the likelihood of recurrence of the cancer. Also, this test is useful to determine breast cancer prognosis.
Oncotype DX is a tumor profiling test that predicts the extent of the spread of cancerous cells over time. The test is useful for people with early-stage breast cancer and for analyzing the benefits of chemotherapy for breast cancer and the chances of recurrence. The test is conducted to analyze the cure rate of breast cancer among patients.
MammaPrint is a multigene test that is used to study gene activity in early-stage breast cancer. The test is used to assess the metastatic properties of breast cancer in a particular patient. This test is also recommended to analyze the chances of disease recurrence.
Breast cancer treatment depends on factors such as the type of breast cancer and the extent of its spread. The treatment plans also depend on multiple factors, namely the tumor's subtype, genomic testing for genetic breast cancer, the patient's overall health and age, and the cancer's stage.
Breast cancer surgery is considered the main line of treatment for most cancer types. A breast cancer operation is recommended when it is possible to remove the tumor and the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
However, the need for surgery has no effect on the need for therapies, such as chemotherapy for breast carcinoma, hormone therapy for breast cancer, and targeted therapies. The following are the different types of breast cancer surgery recommended based on the stage of the disease:
Lumpectomy is an effective line of breast cancer treatment that is also popularly known as a breast-conserving operation. This is an effective treatment when the patient has the initial symptoms of breast cancer, the cancer is small, and the cancerous cells have not spread to other parts of the body. The biggest advantage of this breast cancer operation is that the patient gets to keep most of the breast. However, the doctor may recommend radiotherapy for breast cancer following the lumpectomy.
Another line of breast cancer treatment is mastectomy, which is used for treating both late-stage and early-stage breast cancer. A masectomy involves the removal of all the breast tissue if the patient is suffering from breast cancer or is at high risk of getting it. The two types of mastectomy are unilateral mastectomy and bilateral mastectomy. Unilateral mastectomy refers to the removal of one breast, and bilateral mastectomy refers to the removal of both breasts.
The sentinel node biopsy is conducted during breast cancer surgery for the removal of the original cancer from the breast. During the surgery, the doctor would remove the sentinel node (the first lymph nodes to which the cancer often spreads) to check for the presence of cancerous cells. This surgery is conducted to check whether the breast cancer has spread to lymph nodes or not.
This surgery is conducted if the sentinel node biopsy test is positive for breast cancer. In the axillary lymph node dissection, the doctor will remove a part of the fatty tissue that contains the axillary lymph nodes, located under the arm.
Removal of both breasts is termed a bilateral mastectomy, which is performed as a preventive breast cancer treatment for women who are at a higher risk of getting the cancer.
Radiation therapy is known to be an effective treatment for breast cancer and uses X-rays and protons to kill cancerous cells. Radiotherapy for breast cancer may often be recommended along with surgery or other treatments to enhance the overall efficacy of the treatment.
Chemotherapy for breast cancer makes use of drugs to target and destroy the cancerous cells. During the procedure, the drugs are injected into a patient's vein through a needle or administered through pills. Chemotherapy for breast cancer may be administered before or after the surgery, depending on the case.
Hormone therapy for breast cancer involves a procedure to either slow down or stop the rapid growth of hormone-sensitive cancer cells or lower the level of estrogen in the body, which can help breast cancer cells grow. This procedure is also known as endocrine therapy for breast cancer. The side effects of hormone therapy for breast cancer include vaginal dryness, hot flashes, and night sweats.
Targeted therapy refers to a form of breast cancer treatment, where drugs are used to target specific proteins present on the breast cancer cells that help them grow, spread, and sustain themselves for a long time. Targeted therapy drugs treat breast cancer by killing cancer cells or blocking their growth.
Another course of treatment for breast cancer is immunotherapy, which uses medicines to strengthen a person's immune system so that it can easily recognize and destroy cancerous cells.
Supportive or palliative care is usually recommended for advanced-stage breast cancer patients to help them manage their symptoms and receive the support required to improve their quality of life.
Multiple factors affect breast cancer prognosis. These factors are considered important while planning breast cancer treatment:
The disease stage is the primary prognostic factor for determining the treatment of the cancer. Stage is the measure of the extent to which the cancer has spread from the location of its origin. Early-stage cancer is localized, easy to treat, and has a lower risk of recurrence than later-stage cancer, which needs more comprehensive treatment approaches and has a higher risk of recurrence.
Knowing the types of breast cancer is important to devise an appropriate treatment plan for breast cancer; it can also help in evaluating the risk of recurrence.
If the patient has one or both estrogen and progesterone receptor hormones, the doctor may recommend hormone therapy drugs.
The human epidermal growth factor type 2 receptor is responsible for controlling the proteins present on the surface of cells and promoting their growth. HER2-positive breast cancers show better response rates.
Another factor that affects the prognosis and treatment is the rate at which the tumor is growing in the body.
Another factor affecting the treatment of breast cancer is the age of the patient at the time of diagnosis. Breast cancer affects women who are over the age of 50 and have undergone menopause.
The stage at which breast cancer is diagnosed and its recurrence levels also play a significant role in designing the treatment course for the disease.
HCG boasts a highly skilled team of experts who have relevant knowledge and experience on how to diagnose breast cancer and design its treatment. In addition, the doctors working here have the perfect expertise for deciding what is the best treatment for breast cancer as per each patient's breast cancer symptoms and other patient-specific parameters.
Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment go hand in hand. Thus, the sooner the diagnosis is made, the better the survival rates. In fact, breast cancer can be treated successfully if the diagnosis is made at the right time.