Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent sicknesses among women in the Philippines. In fact anybody can have it. My mother had it when she was only 34 years old, only six months after she gave birth to our youngest sibling.
According to the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, in 2012, the Philippines had the most cases of breast cancer in Asia with 3 out of 100 Filipino women acquired the disease before they reach 75 years old. The Department of Health and the Philippine Cancer Society, Inc. has also reported that breast cancer is the most common cancer in the country with 80,000 new cancer cases in 2010.
Early detection in women is the best way to prevent fatality due to breast cancer. A mammogram procedure is the most common way to check if there are cancer cells in the breast.
A mammogram is an X-Ray image of the breast to detect if there are cancel cells in both a person’s breasts. The images detect tumors that are not felt by a patient. Mammogram screenings can also find tiny deposits of calcium called “microcalcifications” which indicates presence of breast cancer. A diagnostic mammogram is a more extensive procedure, which detects the changes of breast tissue, which is not seen in seen in a regular mammogram screening. It can take more pictures of the breast in different angles than the screening mammogram. Patients with breast implants usually undergo diagnostic mammogram to check changes in their breasts.
There are two types on how mammography or the images of a patient’s breast is stored. The first one is through conventional mammography wherein X-ray images are stored directly on film. Digital mammography, on the other hand, stores the image of the breast in a computer, making it easier to enhance, magnify and manipulate the image for further evaluation. Digital mammography is said to be more accurate because it is easier to take note of normal and abnormal tissues in the breast.
Women who have very high risk of breast cancer like those with family history of cancer and with a gene mutation of either BRCA1 or BRCA2 are recommended to get a digital mammogram instead of a conventional mammogram. But despite the higher accuracy of digital mammograms, there is no claim that it could reduce the risk of death of women who have breast cancer.
There is also a more extensive procedure called a 3D mammography which can take thin slices of the breast in different angles and the computer is able to reconstruct the image of the breast through a software. This kind of mammography does not claim to be more efficient than the 2D version.
Benefits of mammography
It should be clear that a mammogram is only a means to detect breast cancer in women. It does not necessarily mean it could save the lives of those with breast cancer. It merely detects breast cancer as early as possible helping patients get treatment immediately. According to breastcancer.org, mammograms help lower the risk of patients dying from breast cancer by 35 percent over the age of 50 years old. And those between 40 and 50 years old had reduced risk as well. Women who have been diagnosed early are able to keep their breasts in contrast to those who discover their cancer in later stages wherein their only resort is masectomy or breast removal.
Preparing for a Mammogram
Women are advised to have their annual mammogram starting at the age of 40 years old while women with higher risk should consult with their doctors if they could have annual mammograms earlier. First timers may feel anxious to get their mammogram, so these are tips on how to stay cool during the whole process:
- For women who are not having their menopause yet, schedule your mammogram screening the week after your menstrual period when the breasts are less tender.
- Do not use any deodorant, powder or lotion before your screening because these chemicals could look like a breast problem in your X-ray. Set your screening early in the morning.
- Wear two-piece outfits so it is only your top that you need to remove. Just like a normal x-ray, the technician will make you wear a gown.
- Don’t forget your doctor’s order form so they could update your doctor on the result of the mammogram.
Mammograms usually take only 30 minutes wherein each of your breasts will be compressed for 20 to 30 seconds. The compression procedure is uncomfortable but is very important as it flattens and spread the breast tissue for easier detection. The compression gives the image a clear view of the breast and reduces the amount of radiation needed to take the image.
Mammograms range from P750 pesos in public hospitals up to P2,000 pesos in private medical institutions.
Critics against Mammography
Many health advocates have started scrutinizing the process of mammogram screenings to detect breast cancer. They say it has a higher incidence of false results and the yearly exposure to X-rays becomes the cause of cancer cells in women. An international cancer expert stated that:
“The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad exposure increasing breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade’s screening.” “The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad exposure increasing breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade’s screening.”
Mammogram screenings results may also lead to unnecessary treatments that may cause more harm than good to one’s health. Authors of the 2009 Cochrane Database Systematic Review of breast cancer screening and mammography said that:
“Screening led to 30 percent overdiagnosis and overtreatment, or an absolute risk increase of 0.5 percent. This means that for every 2000 women screened for 10 years, one will have her life prolonged, and 10 healthy women who would not have been diagnosed if they had not been screened, will be treated unnecessarily.”