When the diagnosis confirms cancer, a team of people goes to work for you …and with you. McLeod Breast Surgeon Amanda Turbeville, MD, explains the process – starting with your mammogram.
Here is a summary of Dr. Turbeville’s comments:
At your annual visit, your primary care physician will schedule your mammogram. This is for someone not having breast systems.
If you notice a lump or changes in your breast, don’t wait. Call your physician to tell them what is going on so that they can schedule your mammogram.
If it is an annual screening, you will go to the hospital. A technician will perform a mammogram, which is basically pressing the breast tissue between two plates and taking an X-ray to look for abnormalities, such as increased density of breast tissue or small clusters of calcium.
If the mammogram is normal, you go home. A year later you come back and do the same thing again.
If for some reason, there is a question about what they see on the mammogram, they will do a compression study. These additional studies will focus on the area that they are most concerned about. Generally, the radiologist would get a report that goes back to your primary care physician. They will review this report. If there is something concerning they will refer you to a surgeon.
This is where I pick up and we talk about what this problem could be. Often, the patient is scheduled for a biopsy. It can be performed under mammogram guidance or it can be done under ultrasound guidance to localize the area. The radiologist numbs the area and takes a small tissue sample. A pathologist examines it under a microscope, looking for abnormalities. The report comes back to your surgeon, who will be in touch with you about the next step.
If the biopsy is benign then, that is really all there is to it. You will have an additional mammogram in six months, because you still want a closer follow-up. If the mammogram does have something atypical, then we sit down and make a plan, start gathering the team and decide what is the next step.
I think the most important thing to remember is it all starts with screening — mammograms every year starting at the age of 40 and older. You want to have this done annually, and you need to follow up on any abnormal mammograms to get on top of any abnormality early. So, it is important to get your screening. If there is an issue, get the follow-up testing that is needed.
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer there are other medical areas in addition to surgery that are involved, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It depends on each woman’s specific case.
Women with a specific kind of cancer or cancer with a certain size will receive chemotherapy before an operation in order the shrink the tumor or stop it from growing before surgery. Women that opt for breast conservation therapy will need radiation therapy after their surgery to ensure that all of the cancer cells have been killed. It is really on a case-by-case basis. The best way to do this is to get in touch with your surgeon and get a plan together that includes an oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon and your surgeon.
Have a question? Ask a Cancer Specialist.