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Early Detection Matters: Navigating Breast Cancer Screening in India

By Dr. Devavrat Arya in Medical Oncology , Cancer Care / Oncology , Breast Cancer

Nov 17 , 2023 | 2 min read

More than 170,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed every year in India, and unfortunately, there are more than 90,000 breast cancer-related deaths in the country. A significant number of Indian women diagnosed with breast cancer present with lumps that are fairly large in size.

Research shows that to improve cure rates, one needs to detect breast cancer early. This is where breast cancer screening becomes important.

The goal of breast cancer screening is to detect breast cancer at an early stage before a person discovers any symptoms, including a lump.

Screening for Breast Cancer Involves Mammography

Mammography is the best screening test for detecting breast cancer at an early stage. The breasts are placed between two X-ray plates. The tests are usually interpreted by a radiologist, and an appropriate scoring is given. It’s important that one should see a doctor with the results for further guidance.

If the mammography results are abnormal, then some further testing may be needed. These might include getting an additional ultrasound of the breast or, rarely, an MRI of the breast or a biopsy.

Some women may have symptoms that are suspicious, including having a breast lump, but the mammogram results may come back as normal. It is important in this situation to see a cancer specialist because, despite the mammogram being normal, there may be a need for further testing.

Read more - Screening for Breast Cancer to Early Detection & Diagnosis

When to Start Mammograms?

Screening recommendations identify two risk groups. People at average risk are those who do not have a gene that increases their risk of breast cancer or close relatives who had breast cancer at an early age. People who have any of the above are included in high risk.

There is consensus that No screening test is recommended for women below the age of 40 years for breast cancer. However, for women above the age of 40, breast cancer screening is recommended.

How Often Do You Have a Mammogram?

Some guidelines recommend that mammography should be taken once a year for most women. However, there are other guidelines that suggest that mammography can be done once every two years. My own personal advice is to undertake an annual mammogram, especially above the age of 50 years.

The recommendations for screening may be different for people who are at higher risk for developing breast cancer.

Read more - Ignoring the Silent Threat: Don't Let Breast Lumps Sneak Up on You!

When to Stop Getting Mammogram Screening Done?

While most guidelines recommend stopping screening at the age of 70 or 75 years, in my opinion, this decision should be individualised. For healthy old men who have an expected lifespan of 10 years or more, annual screening mammography should continue; however, for women who have serious health issues that limit the expected lifespan, screening mammography may be stopped even before they achieve the age of 70 years.

Are There Any Harms of Breast Cancer Screening?

There can be some negatives. Occasionally, test results suggest cancer and lead to additional testing that ultimately finds no cancer, raising a false alarm and creating significant anxiety.

Should Everyone Undertake Screening?

Even for those women who have excellent lifestyles and do not have any family history of cancer, cancer screening, particularly breast cancer screening, is still recommended.

Read more - Top 10 Myths about Breast Cancer