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What is a Breast Cancer Screening?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Women worldwide commonly suffer with breast cancer. For many, the diagnosis comes too late, resulting in the death of many women. Breast cancer screening is a testing method that aims to detect whether a woman has the disease. There are several methods of breast cancer screening including self breast exams, mammography, and biopsy.

There is a lot of effort put into generating awareness among women about breast cancer. Women are commonly encouraged by their health care providers to conduct self breast exams at home. This type of breast cancer screening involves a woman raising her arms and feeling around each breast for lumps or anything that feels abnormal. If a woman detects something suspicious, she is advised to contact a physician so that a more thorough breast cancer screening can be done. Health care providers also sometimes conduct touch breast exams.

Women are also encouraged to have a professional breast cancer screening, known as a mammogram, conducted every one to two years. A mammogram is a procedure that involves compressing the breast and then utilizing x-ray technology to examine it. The image that is produced from the mammogram is used to search for abnormal masses. If none are found, it is generally concluded that the patient does not have breast cancer.

When abnormal masses or lumps are found in the breast, it is common for a biopsy to be done. This is the only way to know for sure whether a suspicious growth is cancerous. The biopsy is the portion of a breast cancer screening that involves removal of a sample of the suspicious tissue and analyzing it outside of the body using a microscope. A sample generally is obtained by needle extraction, or it can be surgically removed.

The purpose of breast cancer screening generally is to detect breast cancer in it early stages. It is commonly believed that doing so can save many lives. There is, however, some controversy surrounding breast cancer screening. Critics say that self breast exams are ineffective and virtually useless. There is also evidence that suggests that mammograms are not the great diagnostic tools that they were once believed to be.

There are several noted problems with mammograms. First, there is the issue of human error. In some cases, those who assess the images simply make mistakes and overlook cancerous spots. Second, there is at least one known form of breast cancer that cannot be distinguished by mammograms. Third, younger women have denser tissue that can make detection of some lumps difficult, if not impossible.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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