Breast Cancer: Screening, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prognosis

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  • 0:02 Screening for Breast Cancer
  • 1:27 Diagnosing Breast Cancer
  • 3:22 Treatment Options
  • 4:28 Important Prognostic…
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Some types of lumps and their locations in breast cancer have better prognoses than others. There are multiple ways to try and catch breast cancer early, diagnose it, and treat it properly. You'll learn about all of this in this lesson.

Screening for Breast Cancer

When you go to the grocery store, you knock on a watermelon and squeeze a tomato before buying it. Why? To test it out to see if it looks, feels, or sounds right, whatever the case may be. You screen for problems so that you don't buy something rotten. Screening for breast cancer is even more important than that. Screening refers to checking for a disease before the development of its symptoms in order to catch it early and improve the chances of a better outcome.

Women need to conduct monthly self-exams of the breast to check for any suspicious signs along the lines of what I discussed in the lesson on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Please note that sometimes you might find a lump that fits the description of something that is likely to be benign (that means 'non-cancerous'), but you should not ignore it! You need to have it properly diagnosed by a doctor.

Screening also involves having women between the ages of 20-49 get a physical exam from a physician at least every one to two years. Women 50 and over definitely need to be examined by a health professional at least once a year to help spot any potential issues. Women 50 and over should also get a mammogram, an X-ray of the breasts, every single year to screen for signs of cancer. Women between the ages of 40-50 should get a mammogram about every one to two years.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

You've heard of X-ray vision, right? Well, these X-rays help us peer beneath the skin of the breast, where doctors may find certain changes within the breast that are more indicative of cancer. If, during the process of screening for breast cancer or monthly self-exams, there is a suspicious sign or symptom, then further diagnostic tests need to be run to figure out what it truly is. A mammogram is actually also used as a diagnostic test, not just a screening tool, because, like I said, it helps point out potential signs of cancer we cannot see with the naked eye.

But the only way to be certain of what we're dealing with if we find something suspicious is through the use of a biopsy, the taking of a piece of tissue out of the body to be examined under the microscope. A biopsy is like sampling something at the local store when they give you a little bite of food to try. Sampling that food item helps you fully assess what it actually is because just by looking it, you may be mistaken as to its actual taste - until you sample it, you can't be sure.

In the medical world, it's extremely rare that you can definitively (that is to say, without question) diagnose a lump just by looking at it. Instead, you take a biopsy (our tissue sample), and a trained pathologist will use the biopsy to determine what the suspicious mass actually is by looking at it under the microscope. If breast cancer is diagnosed, then it must then be staged. This means we need to figure out the extent of this cancer, where it has spread to, and so on.

Staging a cancer is like trying to figure out the extent of an ant infestation of your home. You're going to try to figure out which rooms, walls, and floors have been compromised - except when we stage a cancer we try to figure out which tissues and organs in the body have been compromised by the cancer.

Treatment Options for Breast Cancer

Staging a cancer is important because it gives a doctor clues that allow him or her to make a more accurate prognosis. Staging a cancer also paints a picture of the best treatment options for a person's particular case. I mean, as with an ant invasion, depending on how bad it is, you may use a combination of sprays, baited traps, or those ultrasonic pest repellants to treat the problem. For breast cancer, treatment options include:

  • A lumpectomy, the surgical removal of a suspicious lump out of the body - this is good for small tumors and spares the breasts.
  • A mastectomy, the surgical removal of an entire breast
  • Radiation therapy, where radiation is used to zap cancer cells in a specific area
  • Chemotherapy, where drugs are used to kill cancers cells all over the body
  • Hormone blocking therapy, where medication blocks hormones, like estrogen, from attaching to cancer cells - this helps to slow down tumor growth and kill cancer cells.

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