Five Common Breast Cancer Monitoring Methods

Know common breast cancer monitoring methods for timely detection, diagnosis and treatment of this common disease.
Breast cancer monitoring
Know ways to monitor breast cancer.
HT Brand Studio Updated: 4 Apr 2024, 03:44 pm IST
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To improve patient outcome for breast cancer, regular monitoring and early intervention is necessary. Breast cancer monitoring involves various methods for early detection, accurate diagnosis, and ongoing surveillance. In this article, we will look at five common methods of breast cancer monitoring and what each approach entails and brings.

Clinical Breast Exam (CBE)

A Clinical Breast Exam (CBE) is a fundamental method for monitoring breast cancer, which involves a physical examination of the breasts by a healthcare professional. This non-invasive procedure aims to detect any abnormalities or changes in breast tissue that may point toward the presence of cancer or other breast-related conditions.

During a CBE, the healthcare provider systematically inspects and palpates the breasts, checking for lumps, changes in size or shape, skin dimpling, nipple discharge, or other signs of concern. The examination usually includes visual inspection and manual palpation of the breasts and surrounding lymph nodes.

CBEs are recommended as part of routine healthcare visits for women of all ages, although screening frequency may vary depending on individual risk factors and guidelines. For women at average risk, CBEs are often performed annually in conjunction with other screening modalities such as mammography.

Breast Self-Exam (BSE)

A Breast Self-Exam (BSE) involves women examining their breasts regularly to detect changes. While not a replacement for clinical exams or mammography, BSE empowers individuals to become familiar with their breast tissue and recognize abnormalities.

During a BSE, women systematically palpate their breasts and check for lumps, changes in size or shape, or other unusual features. Early detection through BSE can lead to prompt medical evaluation and potentially improve outcomes in breast cancer management.

Regular BSEs are encouraged as part of a comprehensive breast health awareness and monitoring approach.

Mammography

Mammography (MG) is essential for breast cancer screening, early detection, and monitoring. Utilizing low-dose X-rays, it captures detailed breast images. During the procedure, gentle compression spreads breast tissue for more precise imaging. Three main functions include screening for asymptomatic women, diagnosis for symptomatic cases or abnormalities found during screening, and surveillance for already diagnosed cases on treatment.

Regular mammograms at age 40 improve treatment outcomes and survival rates through early detection. They guide further tests like ultrasound or biopsy if abnormalities are found. Usually performed every 1 to 2 years, mammograms may yield false positives or negatives, especially with dense breast tissue, which necessitates regular follow-up exams.

Preparation involves avoiding deodorants and lotions and wearing comfortable clothing. Despite minimal radiation exposure, the benefits of early detection outweigh the risks. Additional tests and regular follow-up mammograms are recommended to monitor changes if abnormalities are detected.

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Ultrasonography

Ultrasonography (US), commonly known as ultrasound, is another valuable method for monitoring breast cancer alongside mammography and clinical exams. It utilizes high-frequency sound waves to create detailed images of the breast tissue. Unlike mammography, which uses X-rays, ultrasound does not involve radiation, and this makes it safe for frequent use, particularly in younger women or during pregnancy.

Breast ultrasound is often used as a complementary imaging tool to mammography, especially when further evaluation is needed for suspicious findings or in women with dense breast tissue. It can provide additional information about the characteristics of breast abnormalities, such as whether a lump is fluid-filled (cystic) or solid, which aids in diagnosis and treatment planning.

Moreover, ultrasound is beneficial for guiding breast biopsies, which allows healthcare providers to target suspicious areas for tissue sampling precisely. This improves the accuracy of diagnosis and reduces the need for unnecessary surgical procedures.

Overall, breast ultrasound plays an essential role in breast cancer monitoring as it enhances the detection of abnormalities, facilitates accurate diagnosis, guides appropriate interventions, and ultimately contributes to improved patient outcomes and quality of care.

Biomarker testing

Finally, biomarkers serve as crucial indicators in breast cancer monitoring, providing valuable information about the disease’s presence, progression, and response to treatment. These biological molecules, which can include proteins, genes, hormones, and other substances, are measurable in blood, tissue, or bodily fluids and offer insights into the molecular characteristics of breast cancer cells.

Some of the most well-known biomarkers in breast cancer monitoring are the estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Testing for these biomarkers helps classify breast cancers into subtypes and guide treatment decisions. For example, tumors that express hormone receptors (ER and PR) may respond well to hormone therapy, while those overexpressing HER2 may benefit from targeted therapies like trastuzumab.

Additionally, biomarkers such as circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and cell-free DNA (cfDNA) provide real-time information about disease progression and treatment response. Detection of CTCs in the blood or cfDNA in bodily fluids can indicate the presence of metastatic disease or the development of treatment resistance, which prompts adjustments to the treatment plan.

Biomarker testing can be an integral component of breast cancer monitoring. The result of a biomarker test can then be used to guide treatment decisions, assess disease progression, and predict outcomes. Because of this, integrating biomarkers into clinical practice can potentially enhance the precision and efficacy of breast cancer management strategies.

Final words

From clinical breast exams and ultrasounds to biomarker testing, and everything in between, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to what patients and their healthcare providers should do to monitor disease progression. While some can be more effective than others, such as clinical testing compared to self-examinations, patients should listen to what their physician recommends for their situation. One thing is for sure – with regular monitoring and testing, patients can better keep an eye on their health developments and take the appropriate actions at the right times.

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