Screening for Breast Cancer to Early Detection & Diagnosis

By Dr. Devavrat Arya in Breast Cancer

Nov 02 , 2022 | 2 min read


Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in India. Unfortunately, the rates are increasing, especially in urban areas, due to worsening lifestyles. Most women in India are diagnosed in advanced stages. This means that at the time of diagnoses, their tumours are big. A big tumour means a more complicated treatment and lesser chances of a cure.

What is breast cancer screening?

Breast cancer screening is a test to detect cancerous cells in people with no breast cancer symptoms. This means that a person gets the test voluntarily. The commonly used test is a special x-ray called a "mammogram." Screening aims to find cancer early, thereby maximising the chances of cure. There is evidence to suggest that a majority of cancers detected through mammograms are early-stage and highly curable.

Who should undergo screening for breast cancer?

Different guidelines have different recommendations for breast cancer screening. The screening recommendations will differ for people at a higher risk of breast cancer. Most guidelines suggest that women above 50 years start screening to diagnose breast cancer. Some guidelines recommend that women start at the age of 40. Some people at high risk of breast cancer may need to begin screening before age 40. A high-risk person is someone with many family members with breast or ovarian cancer. Someone with BRCA 1/2 mutation will also be categorised as high risk and must start screening early.

What are the benefits of screening for breast cancer?

The benefit of screening is that it helps doctors find cancer early, when it may be easier to treat, lowering the chances of dying from breast cancer. There is evidence to suggest that the majority of cancers detected through mammograms are early stage and highly curable.

Are there any negatives of breast cancer screening?

The drawbacks include false positives, which means there is a finding on the tests, but it is not cancer. This can lead to unnecessary tests and worry. In addition, there is a small risk for radiation exposure; however, studies suggest that this exposure is small, and the benefits of getting screening exceed the harm from a mammogram.

What about breast examinations?

There are two kinds of breast examinations. They are:

  1. Clinical Breast Exam

    A clinical breast exam is an examination conducted by a doctor who uses their hands to feel for lumps or other changes.

  2. Breast Self-Examination

    breast self-examination is an examination done by the patient themself, where they feel for abnormal lumps. If any lumps are found, patients reach out to a doctor for a proper consultation. A clinical breast exam or a breast self-exam does not seem to lower the chances of dying from breast cancer.

Can I have a breast MRI instead of a mammogram?

A breast MRI uses radiowaves to image both breasts. A breast MRI is used when a mammogram is not informative enough. It is also used for women at high risk of getting breast cancer. Since breast MRIs may appear abnormal even when there is no cancer risk, they are not used for women at average risk.

How often should I have a mammogram?

There is controversy regarding the ideal frequency of breast cancer screenings. Many guidelines suggest mammograms every 2 years for most people, while others suggest mammograms every year.

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