Author’s note: I am more passionate than ever about the message of “Early detection is the best protection.” I just lost a very dear and special friend—an amazing and powerful woman—to this disease because it was caught too late. I’m dedicating this article to her, Bert Ardantz.
This is a wonderful time of year for health. Just about every media outlet—both online and offline—join in reminding us that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month (NBCA). Major breast cancer charities conduct this annual international health campaign to increase awareness of the disease, and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer. We all get invited to join in this race, donate to that organization, hold a women’s awareness meeting, and more. Most importantly, we are all reminded of this key fact: Early Detection is the Best Protection.
Breast cancer is the second most common form of cancer among American women (lung cancer is first). As of last month, according to the National Cancer Institute, there were 231,840 cases of breast cancer in women, and 2,360 cases of breast cancer in men. Sadly, this statistic is also true: About one in eight women born today in the US will get breast cancer at some point.
This is why raising awareness to ALL of us, right now, is critically important. It takes years for a tumor to grow, and the earliest possible indication of abnormality is needed to allow for the earliest possible treatment and intervention.
Doctors do not yet know how to prevent breast cancer. But you can increase your chances of detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages by understanding the need for, and participating in, an early detection program. Only about 20 percent of biopsied breast lumps are cancerous. And, if cancer is found early, there are choices for treatment. With prompt treatment, the outlook is good. In fact, most women treated for early breast cancer will be free from breast cancer for the rest of their lives.
GUIDELINES FOR EARLY DETECTION
In the near future, there may be one single method for the early detection of breast cancer. Until then, using a combination of methods will increase your chances of detecting cancer in an early stage. These include:
- Monthly breast self-examination
- A regular breast exam by a health professional
- Personal alertness for changes in the breasts
- Readiness to discuss quickly any such changes with a doctor
- Mammography testing for all women requiring further monitoring and evaluation
- Regular DITI (Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging, or Thermography) screening for women of all ages
Of course, these guidelines need to be taken into account with your specific background and medical history. Keep in mind: these guidelines may change as new scientific information becomes available. The final decision regarding all tests, of course, needs to be made on an individual basis.
Breast Self-Exams (BSE) are a Monthly Must Breast health begins with a “baseline” Breast Self-Exam. Common sense dictates: knowledge of your own body is your key to good health. If you don’t know what you normally feel like, you won’t be able to recognize signs of illness or infection. Breast self-exams help us feel more comfortable with our bodies, and provide us with a baseline of how we look and feel when we are in a state of health. Self-exams also allow us to take action in protecting ourselves, since with regular self-exams, we are more knowledgeable about our bodies than the health practitioners who, typically, examine us only once a year.
Many women do not perform BSEs for fear of finding “something.” But even if you find something, statistically, eight out of ten times, it is nothing to be alarmed about. Since breast cancers found early and treated promptly are almost always cured, learning how to examine your breasts properly can help save your life.
To ensure for the highest level of health care, BSE should be done in conjunction with annual exams by a health care practitioner. Every woman (starting at the tender age of 20) should begin conducting breast self-exams. BSEs should be performed once a month, immediately following the menstrual period, when breasts aren’t tender or swollen. For women who are not always regular, it is suggested that they perform it on the same day every month. Note: Do Not be concerned if you happen to feel some lumps or hardness; that is totally natural. It is also normal if breasts are not exactly the same size.
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It can reveal tumors too small to be felt and can show other changes in the breast that doctors believe may suggest cancer. In mammography, the breast is pressed between two plates; some pressure is applied to get a clear picture. Usually, two x-rays are taken of each breast, one from the top and one from the side. Many women are concerned about radiation exposure, but this is a commonly used procedure as doctors often suggest it if a symptom of breast cancer is found, whether through Thermography, BSE, the annual exam, or by chance.
This painless procedure detects breast changes by sending high-frequency sound waves into the breast. The pattern of echoes from these sound waves is converted into an image of the breast’s interior. Ultrasound may be helpful in distinguishing between solid masses and cysts (fluid-filled sacs). Unlike mammography, ultrasound cannot detect small calcium deposits that may be present in the breast and that sometimes indicate cancer, nor does it identify small tumors. Recent technical improvements with ultrasound can often make us more confident in diagnosing benign conditions and can reduce the need for an immediate biopsy.
MAGNETIC RESONANCE IMAGING (MRI)
An MRI machine can take cross-sectional images through different parts of the body, and may be a very sensitive imaging tool for finding breast cancers. MRI might prove to be better than either mammography or ultrasound in determining the extent of cancer in the breast and where it’s located. Breast implants can interfere with conventional mammography. While most diagnostic imaging centers have MRI units, relatively few of them have used the technology for detecting breast cancers. Whether MRI should join mammography, thermography and ultrasound as part of a standard regimen is currently being evaluated with studies underway.
THERMOGRAPHY: SAFE, SOUND, CERTIFIED
Breast thermography, also known as DITI (Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging), is an FDA-approved, painless, radiationfree, fifteen-minute non-invasive procedure. It is an imaging technique that uses infrared sensors to map the differences in heat levels on the surface of the breasts. This screening is both comfortable and safe because it uses NO radiation or compression. By carefully examining changes in the temperature and blood vessels of the breasts, signs of possible cancer or pre-cancerous cell growth may be detected up to a whopping eight to ten years prior to being discovered using any other procedure!
This provides for the earliest detection of cancer possible. Because of breast thermography’s extreme sensitivity, these temperature variations and vascular changes may be among the earliest signs of breast cancer and/or a pre-cancerous state of the breast.
Due to the fact that all tumors need blood flow to grow and live, the noticeable areas of increased heat indicate increased blood circulation that may be related to tumors. The thermogram is a colorful “map” that shows the variety of heat levels in the breasts; its appearance is similar to a geographic contour map: Cooler areas are shown in light colors, warmer areas appear in darker colors. Thermograms can be used to look for inflammation, cell structure, and can show blood vessel circulation and patterns.
DITI detects the subtle physiologic changes that accompany breast pathology, whether it is cancer, fibrocystic disease, an infection, or a vascular disease. Your doctor can then plan accordingly and lay out a careful program to further diagnose and /or monitor you until other standard testing is positive. Regular DITI screening can provide an early alert for possible referral to mammography, sonography, or MRI to improve early detection by your doctor.
DITI may be especially appropriate for younger women under 50 whose denser breast tissue makes it more difficult for mammography to pick up suspicious lesions. This test can provide a “clinical marker” to the physician just before clinical breast examination as well as to the mammographer before the mammogram is performed, that a specific area of the breast needs particularly close examination.
A MULTIMODAL APPROACH
Breast thermography has an average sensitivity and specificity of 90 percent. When used as part of a multimodal approach – which would include clinical examination plus mammography plus thermography – then 95 percent of early stage cancers can be detected. However, thermography does not have the ability to pinpoint the location of a tumor. Consequently, breast thermography’s role is in addition to a mammogram, an ultrasound and a physical examination.
Today’s thermography is performed using only the best equipment: Ultra sensitive infrared cameras and sophisticated computers that detect, analyze, and produce high-resolution diagnostic images of the temperature and vascular changes in breasts. It is important to work only with Board Certified Thermography technicians from the American College of Clinical Thermography at Duke University. Once these images have been taken, they are sent to an interpretation service that employs a team of medical doctors, all Board Certified as Thermologists, who have many years experience in reading these digital images.
To find a health office near you that performs Thermography, check it out online at http://www.thermologyonline.org/Breast/breast_thermography_clinics.htm
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