Breast cancer screening explained clearly

guest column:Michelle C Madzudzo

ABOUT one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime.

If it is detected early, treatment is more successful and there is a good chance of recovery.

Early detection remains the best way to prevent the development of life-threatening breast cancer.

The earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment, the higher your chances of survival.

What is breast cancer screening?

The medical examination of asymptomatic apparently healthy women for breast cancer in an attempt to make early diagnosis, simply put, it is checking a woman’s breasts for cancer before there are signs and symptoms of the disease.

It helps women become familiar with the regular look and feel of their breasts and easily identify symptoms such as lumps and pain.

You should report any changes detected during a breast self-examination to your doctor.

Clinical breast exam
This is done by a skilled health professional such as a nurse or a doctor who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes. This can be done once a year.

Mammography
This is an X-ray machine that exposes the breast to small amounts of radiation to obtain pictures of the inside of a breast.

Mammograms are the best way to diagnose breast cancer early, when it is easy to treat and before it develops.

Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer.

There is empirical evidence that mammography screening results in a reduction in breast cancer deaths, principally because of the reduction in the incidence of advanced and inoperable breast cancer.

There really is need for this country’s mammography services to be readily available and accessible throughout the country if we are to reduce mortality from breast cancer.

Magnetic resonance ultrasound
This is an examination in which a powerful magnetic field, radio-frequency pulses and a computer are used to obtain a detailed picture of breast tissue.

This method is typically used for women at high risk for breast cancer because of a family history of breast cancer.

MRI is also very helpful in finding abnormalities that are not visible with mammography or ultrasound.

Ultrasound
This is an imaging that uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the breast, it determines whether the lump is a solid mass or just a fluid-filled cyst.

It is used for women at high risk and unable to do mammography, or in pregnant women and also in women with dense breast tissue which makes it difficult to diagnose cancer through the traditional mammography.

Is there a breast cancer screening programme in Zimbabwe
At the moment no national breast cancer screening programme is in place, but women are encouraged to go for screening.

In future a screening programme will be established and our own national screening guidelines that women can follow.

Some countries in the southern region have guidelines based on those from America.

In the United States, women are now recommended to start annual screening with mammograms from age 45 to 54, but women between ages 40 to 45 can choose to begin getting mammogram checks yearly if they
want to.

The World Health Organisation recommends yearly screening.

Breast cancer screening is important because it can help detect breast cancer early when it is still easy to treat.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in the fight against breast cancer this October and beyond!

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