Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in Canadian women. In 2005 approximately 21,600 women were diagnosed with this potentially fatal disease. Early diagnosis of breast cancer is important, so which screening method is the best?
The mammogram is the most familiar screening tool. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that is used to detect and to diagnose breast cancer. It will show masses in the breast
as a white area on the x-ray. Mammograms are best used for post-menopausal breast tissue and to diagnose slow-growing tumours.
Ultrasounds use sound waves that echo back when they hit tissue of a different density (a mass). Ultrasound is not a true screening method but is commonly used as a follow-up method to diagnose the shape of a breast mass.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a useful diagnostic tool, not a screening method. An MRI may be beneficial for women with breast implants, as it is the best method to locate any leaking fluid. The role of the MRI in breast disease and breast cancer is currently being further researched.
Breast self-examination, when done properly, allows a woman to determine the shape and texture of her breasts and to know early when there are changes. To learn how to properly perform the breast self-examination, talk to your doctor or see websites such as www.breastselfexam.ca.
Breast thermography is a procedure that shows the infrared radiation (heat) emitted from the body. Usually, cancer cells are hotter than surrounding cells because of the increase in blood supply they create. The thermography scan will show the contrast between the normal breast tissue and the hotter problem area. It can provide a good picture of breast-tissue-cell activity.
Breast thermography is a safe procedure for monitoring breast-tissue health without the use of radiation, compression, or contact. However, breast thermography is not a replacement for a mammogram; it is an assessment tool for breast tissue that may not be ideally suited for a mammogram. Women whose breast tissue may not be easy to diagnose with a mammogram include those who are premenopausal, pregnant, or lactating; those with dense breast tissue or who have especially large or small breasts; women with breast implants; women with fibrocystic disease; or post-menopausal women taking hormone replacement therapy. Thermography may also be used to screen men’s breast tissues.
A thermography breast scan can provide a woman with the earliest evidence of breast disease. Studies have shown that an abnormal thermography scan is an important marker of risk for development of breast cancer. Breast thermography can detect the first signs of cancer up to 10 years before any other procedure such as mammograms, ultrasounds, or MRIs.
No matter what method of breast screening you choose, remember that early diagnosis saves lives.
What to Expect During Thermography
The whole procedure takes less than one hour. There will be a form to complete regarding breast history and breast symptoms. The next step involves allowing your breasts to cool to room temperature (18 to 22 C/ 64 to 72 F) in a private room, and requires you to disrobe to the waist.
Three infrared photographs are then taken: straight on, right partial side view, and left partial side view.
You will then place both of your hands in cool water (10 C/ 50 F) for one minute. The purpose is to cause a change in the blood vessels in your body. Normal blood vessels will constrict during the cold challenge and become narrow. Blood vessels that supply abnormal cells will not respond to the cold challenge and will remain dilated.
Following the cold challenge, the infrared pictures are repeated from the three angles to record your body’s changes in blood vessel activity.