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Breast Cancer Screening Tests: What Every Woman Should Know

​Breast cancer is the leading cause of deaths due to cancer in Indian women. According to the National Cancer Registry Programme, One in 22 women in urban areas and one in 60 women in rural areas is likely to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. It is due to the high prevalence rate, breast cancer screening is known to be a highly effective way to diagnose breast cancer. However, there are many questions on what are the right breast cancer screening tests, who should go for a screening, how often should one get a screening done, and so on.
So to help you understand different breast cancer screening tests, we have asked Dr. Snehal Patil, Breast Cancer Surgeon, Onco-Life Cancer Centre, Maharashtra to explain and clear some of the common doubts on breast cancer.

What is the best way to test breast cancer?

The best way to test breast cancer is through early screening. The different types of breast cancer screening tests include:

       *     Monthly breast self-examination (BSE)
       *     Clinical breast examination (CBE)
       *     Mammography
       *     Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Monthly breast self-examination (BSE)
Breast self-examination, as the name suggests, is a breast cancer screening test which can be done by oneself and at home. It usually takes 5 -10 mins and should be done every month by all females above 15 yrs of age. Here is how to do breast self-examination at home.

-Stand topless in front of a mirror with your hands on your sides and shoulders straight.
-Look at your breasts in the mirror for any visual changes in the breasts such as dimpling, inverted nipple, puckering, and changes in the size, shape or symmetry.

-Lift your hands and place the palms on the back of the head to look for changes in the breast. Repeat this by lifting one breast at a time.

– Feel your breasts by using the pads of your fingers (not the tips). Apply pressure and move your fingers over the breasts in a circular motion just like massaging the area. As you do this, make your way to the collarbone, center of the breastbone and near the armpits.

-Inspect your breasts when lying down and again in the shower. The use of water and soap while taking a shower makes it easier for your fingers to glide over the skin and make it easy to feel the breasts.

– Repeat the procedure by placing one hand over the back the head and massaging the breast with the other hand. Lastly, gently squeeze the nipple to check for any discharge.

The principle behind BSE is that if you know what is normal for your body, only then will you be able to figure out even the smallest abnormality, if any, in the breast. BSE is proven to aid in early diagnosis of lumps and other changes (signs and symptoms) that happen in the breast, which could indicate breast cancer.

Women in the menstruating age should do the self-examination on any day from day 5 to day 10 of the menstrual cycle (day one being the first day of periods). Postmenopausal women can do it on any day but they also must do self-breast examination without fail. Hence, it is advised to have a fixed day for BSE such as the first day of every month or first Sunday of every month.

Clinical Breast Examination (CBE)

A clinical breast exam is done by a doctor or a nurse. During this exam, the clinician uses his/her hands to feel any lumps, hardness, nipple discharge or any other changes in the breast. It should be done once in six months in women who are at a high risk of breast cancer or at the earliest sign of any abnormality or symptoms of breast cancer. If you observe any abnormality during BSE, it’s advised to get a CBE done immediately to investigate further.


Mammography is basically an X-ray of the breast tissue. It should be done by all women once a year after the age of 40 years or as advised by your doctor.

It is reported that breast density and age are important predictors of accuracy of this test. This could be the reason why the results are more accurate in older women and less sensitive in young women and those with dense breast tissue. Moreover, women in their 40s have a lower incidence of breast cancer and faster-growing cancers. Mammography alone is not useful in women with dense breasts. In these women, it has to be done in conjunction with ultrasonography or as advised by your doctor.

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