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Last time, our blog discussed how October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual initiative meant to both educate the public, and provide much-needed support to patients, survivors and families who have lost loved ones to this devastating disease.
In today’s post, we’ll continue our previous discussion by examining the tools available to medical professionals in diagnosing breast cancer.
As stated earlier, diagnostic mammograms are used when a screening mammogram shows potential issues or some other signs inform a medical professional that further examination is merited, such as lumps, pain and changes in the size/shape of breast tissue to name only a few.
In general, diagnostic mammograms use specialized techniques used to create more comprehensive x-rays of the breast tissue, meaning they utilize multiple angles as well as zoom-in shots on potential problem areas.
Experts indicate that the ability of mammograms to detect the presence of breast cancer depends on a multitude of factors, including tumor size, density of breast tissue, the age of the patient and, of course the overall skill of the radiologist tasked with administering and reading the results.
A medical professional may request an ultrasound in the event of a suspicious result in either a breast exam or a screening mammogram. In general, the ultrasound scan emits sound waves, which are then deflected by the breast tissue and create echoes. These echoes, in turn, are used by a computer to create an internal view — called a sonogram — of the breast tissue.
Experts indicate that breast ultrasounds are typically used when the presence of lumps is detected, and can provide a picture of the tissue surrounding the lumps and determine whether the lumps are solid or filled with liquid. This is significant because in the case of the former, it may be indicative of a cancerous tumor, while in the case of the latter, it might be evidence of a non-cancerous cyst.
In the event diagnostic examinations are inconclusive or more comprehensive images are needed, it’s possible a medical professional might request a breast MRI to measure the extent, if any, of the disease.
Here, magnetic resonance imaging involves a computer and advanced magnetic system working together to transmit magnetic energy and radio waves through the breast tissue. This creates a very detailed picture that allows medical professionals to identify cancerous breast tissue.
While these are clearly not all of the diagnostic tools available in identifying breast cancer, it nevertheless serves to illustrate how there are myriad options available, and how important it is for medical professionals to leverage them effectively, as a delayed diagnosis of cancer can make the difference between life and death.
Source: National Breast Cancer Foundation, “Mammogram,” Accessed Oct. 6, 2014