July 8, 2024
July 8, 2024

Why Is Early Detection of Breast Cancer Important

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Why Is Early Detection of Breast Cancer Important

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women and accounted for 626,679 deaths globally in 2018. There are many types of breast cancer, each with different clinical characteristics and available treatment options. While significant improvements have been made in therapies to treat breast cancer, advanced stages of the disease carry a high mortality rate. Catching the disease at earlier stages, when it has not metastasized and is still localized to the breast, increases curability and leads to overall higher survival rates. Early-stage breast cancers can be treated with surgery, which is not an option with metastasized breast cancer. Thus, screening programs are crucial for detecting breast cancers at early stages. This article will explore the importance of early detection of breast cancer, the methods used, and the benefits it offers.

The Benefits of Early Detection

While getting diagnosed with breast cancer can be a traumatic experience, catching cancer at the early stages comes with significant benefits.

Improved Survival Rates

Detecting breast cancer early dramatically enhances survival rates. Patients diagnosed at earlier stages have a 5-year survival rate of 99 percent, whereas those diagnosed at later stages have a 5-year survival rate of 31 percent. A meta-analysis estimates that breast cancer screening decreases mortality by roughly 20 percent.

Early breast cancer stages are localized to the breast and have not yet invaded the surrounding area or lymph nodes or metastasized to a distant site. This means that early-stage breast cancer can be treated with surgical resections, which include lumpectomy and mastectomy. These cancers are also typically less aggressive than late-stage tumors, which can also be resistant to treatment.

Less Aggressive Treatment Options

Early-stage breast cancers are curable with surgical resection, which is often followed or preceded by radiotherapy, depending on tumor characteristics such as size. Later stages are usually treated with systemic chemotherapies, which can have debilitating and distressing side effects. Though targeted treatments are becoming increasingly available for late-stage breast cancers, they are often employed in addition to chemotherapies.

Early detection often means less aggressive treatment methods can be used. For instance, lumpectomy, which removes only the tumor and surrounding tissue, can be performed instead of mastectomy, which removes the entire breast tissue. Lumpectomy is less invasive, requires less recovery time, and carries a lower psychological burden than mastectomy. In some cases of early detection, chemotherapy is not recommended for patients, which can be an added benefit.

Better Quality of Life

Being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer takes less of a toll on the mental health of patients than with late-stage diagnoses. Investigation may remove anxiety and uncertainty, especially for patients who suspect they have breast cancer or have a family history of the disease.

Methods of Early Detection

Fortunately, there are many non-invasive ways to detect breast cancers early. These include:

Screening Mammography

Mammography is a specialized low-dose X-ray technique used to take detailed images of the breast to detect early signs of breast cancer. It is widely used and highly effective in identifying small tumors and abnormalities, making it a crucial tool for early diagnosis and improving treatment outcomes. The 20 percent decrease in mortality with breast cancer screening can be mainly attributable to mammography.

American Cancer Society (ACS) Screening Guidelines: The ACS recommends yearly screening mammography for women with average risk starting at age 45, with the option to begin screening between the ages of 40 and 44. They recommend increasing the screening to twice a year at the age of 55.

US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) Guidelines: The USPSTF recommends screening twice yearly for all women aged between 40 and 74.

Breast Self-Exams and Clinical Breast Exams

Regular breast self-exams are important for helping women become familiar with how their breasts usually look and feel, making it easier to notice any changes that could be early signs of cancer.

These are the basic steps for performing a breast self-exam:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips. Look for any changes in the size, shape, or color of your breasts, as well as any visible distortions or swelling.
  1. Raise your arms and look for the same changes while noting any unusual appearance.
  1. Look for any discharge coming from the nipples, which could be watery, milky, yellow, or even contain blood.
  1. Lie down and use your right hand to feel your left breast and your left hand to feel your right breast for lumps or abnormalities.
  1. Inspect your breasts while standing or sitting, which may be easier to do when your skin is wet and slippery, such as during a shower.

Emerging Detection Technologies

Several new technologies are emerging that will help with early breast cancer detection. These include:

Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI)

Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) is an advanced type of imaging that uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to detect breast cancer by highlighting areas of abnormal cell activity.


A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the inside of the breast, helping to distinguish between solid tumors and fluid-filled cysts. It can be beneficial for women with dense breasts or where mammography images are not clear.

Breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

A Breast MRI uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the breast, making it highly effective at detecting cancer and abnormalities, especially in women with dense breast tissue or a high risk of breast cancer.

Blood Tests and Liquid Biopsies

Blood tests and liquid biopsies are gaining prominence as diagnostic tools to detect breast cancer at early stages. They can be carried out alongside standard blood tests to detect markers such as circulating tumor DNA.

Overcoming Barriers to Early Detection

Despite the advantages of early breast cancer detection, there are still challenges to overcome before the full benefits of screening can be realized.

Awareness and Education

Global incidence of breast cancer is increasing, which highlights the need for continued awareness campaigns. This is particularly important regarding early detection, which significantly affects mortality rates and treatment options.

Healthcare professionals are essential for disseminating accurate information on breast cancer screening programs. A study on educational interventions for breast cancer highlighted the need for increased educational support, especially for younger women, to help boost the chances of early detection. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) emphasizes the need for clarity in healthcare communication, while the American Medical Association recommends building patient rapport, being empathic, and actively practicing communicating, among other tips.

Access to Screening Services

Despite the emergence of new technologies and increasing education, access to screening services remains an issue for many women. Western countries have largely adopted screening programs, but some Asian and African countries have yet to implement these plans, meaning women in these countries have less access to screening services. A study from 2015 identified cost as a barrier to screening in underserved communities in the US. However, many participants actually overestimated the cost of screening, highlighting the need for better education about screening and accessibility.

Cultural and Social Factors

Many people feel that any cancer diagnosis always carries a poor prognosis and thus may avoid screening. Lack of education or access to resources are other social factors that prevent women from accessing screening services. Therefore, healthcare communicators must conduct culturally sensitive education and outreach programs, particularly in historically underserved communities.

Summary: Why Is Early Detection of Breast Cancer Important

Early detection of breast cancer is crucial for improving survival rates, offering less aggressive treatments, and enhancing the quality of life. Early-stage breast cancer has a 99 percent 5-year survival rate and can often be treated with surgery and radiation, avoiding systemic chemotherapy and its severe side effects. Regular screening methods, such as mammography and breast self-exams, are vital for early detection. Women are encouraged to be proactive about their breast health and participate in regular screenings to catch the disease early when it is most treatable, and the prognosis is significantly better.

The Ezra mammogram uses advanced technology to detect breast abnormalities early. Regular mammograms may help detect small changes even before symptoms appear. Ezra streamlines the process to make getting a screening fast and easy. Get started today and book your mammogram easily online. You can also book an Ezra Full Body MRI, which only takes an hour and will screen for cancer in up to 13 organs.