Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer in women worldwide. Some of the most developed countries in the world face the highest incidence rates of breast cancer with Belgium in the first place, followed by Denmark and France. Developing countries may have lower incidence rates but are faced with higher mortality rates compared to developed countries.
If detected at an early stage, there is a higher chance of being treated successfully. To be able to avoid breast cancer successfully, it is essential to be aware of the factors that may increase your risk, the early stage symptoms and the medical tests that are necessary for successful detection of breast cancer.
There are certain risk factors associated with breast cancer like being a woman, certain inherited genes or having a family of breast cancer history that you cannot change. However, there are a few lifestyle-related risk factors that can be avoided. Some of these factors are related to your daily habits and routine, like drinking alcohol and not being physically active. Some other lifestyle factors that may increase your risk of breast cancer include birth control methods that use hormones like oral contraceptives, birth control implants, intrauterine devices (IUD) and skin patches.
While there is no proven way to avoid breast cancer, there are a few habits that you can follow to reduce the risk of breast cancer. A healthy lifestyle is one of the most highly recommended tips by all healthcare professionals. It is advised to maintain a healthy balanced weight, stay physically active through cardiovascular and strength training exercises throughout the week and avoid regular consumption of alcohol.
Warning signs and symptoms for an early detection of breast cancer vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms are listed below:
- A change in the shape or size of the breast
- A change in the texture of the skin or an area that feels thicker
- Redness or a rash around the breast or nipple
- Nipple retraction or turning inwards
- Swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone
- Pain in the armpit or breasts
- Lump around the breast or armpits
Breast cancer, like any other disease, is quite complex and has many facets to its symptoms and diagnosis. Most healthcare professionals recommend conducting a self-examination on a regular basis to look for lumps, pain or any other abnormality in the breast and armpit area. There are many other factors that contribute towards breast cancer and may be an early symptom, much before a lump appears.
Hormonal imbalance, for example, plays a great role in determining the risk for breast cancer. One of the ways doctors and qualified physicians determine if a woman has a higher breast cancer risk is through thermography. In some cases, the chronic back pain was also found as one of the early symptoms of breast cancer. This is because as a tumour develops in the breasts, they put pressure on the ribs and spine causing persistent pain. Nutrient deficiency is another reason that may be an early symptom of breast cancer. Research shows, 75% of the adult population is deficient in iodine which helps keep the cancer cells at bay. Low Vitamin D levels also increase the risk of breast cancer in a woman.
Diagnosis and Medical Tests
Routine self-examinations are essential to good health and are recommended by doctors and other health professionals. The first step towards noticing anything abnormal with your body is knowing your body well. Regular health check-ups are the key to maintaining good health and play an important role in early detection of any disease.
While there are many different types of tests and procedures related to breast cancer, each serves a different purpose and is required at a different stage. In a broader sense, breast cancer-related tests can be classified into 3 categories:
Screening tests: These tests are a part of regular check-ups as they are required to detect any abnormality in the cells around the breast and armpit area. There are many different types of tests that can be classified as a screening test depending on the symptoms seen or found. A breast exam is when your doctor feels for any lumps or abnormal cell growth around the breast and armpit area. This test is usually the first test and is a regular practice amongst ob-gyn specialists.
A mammogram is an X-Ray of the breast commonly used to screen for breast cancer. Regular mammograms are helpful in finding breast cancer at an early stage when the treatment can be the most successful. Many women who have regular mammograms find breast cancer symptoms years before they can physically develop and do not require aggressive cancer treatments like chemotherapy and mastectomy.
In some cases, your doctor may recommend a breast ultrasound which uses sound waves to produce images of structures deep within the body. Ultrasound can be used to determine whether a new breast lump is a solid mass or a fluid-filled cyst.
Diagnostic tests: If a person is suspected of having breast cancer due to the symptoms or screening tests results, the doctor may recommend a few diagnostic tests. These tests enable the doctor to understand whether the cancer is present and if it has travelled outside the breasts.
One of the most definitive ways for breast cancer diagnosis is a biopsy. A biopsy is when a doctor uses a specialized needle device guided by X-ray or another imaging test to extract a core of tissue from the suspicious area. Often, a small metal marker is left at the site within the breast so that the area can be identified easily for future imaging tests.
Biopsy samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis where the experts determine whether the cells are cancerous or not. The sample is also analyzed to determine the type of cells involved, the grade of cancer and whether the cells have hormone receptors. All of these factors influence your treatment options.
Monitoring tests: Once the breast cancer is diagnosed, monitoring tests are used to observe how well the therapies and treatments are working. These tests differ from person to person as they depend on the grade and the type of cancer. Doctors often conduct many tests for the stage of cancer and understand how far it has progressed. These tests help determine the right course of treatment and include:
- Blood tests
- CT scans
- Bone scans
- Breast MRI
- PET scans.
Throughout the entire process, it is essential to maintain a transparent and healthy relationship with your healthcare provider and your insurance provider. A breast cancer diagnosis may lead you to find that your health insurance plan does not cover the costs of the medical tests required.
Understanding your plan will help you avoid any confusion and enable you to have a smooth treatment process. Make sure you have a good understanding of your plan, it’s benefits and how to file a claim. It is important to have an updated list of benefits in your plan and the network list. Once your doctor recommends certain medical tests for you, make sure you check if these are covered in your plan and if any procedures require a co-payment and/or co-insurance.
An easy way to avoid extra costs is to know your network list and visit only those hospitals and clinics included in the network. It would be smart to take advantage of the online presence of your insurance provider and stay updated with every detail of your insurance plan. Finally, keep the paperwork safe throughout the process. This makes it easier for you to file a claim afterwards.