Breast cancer screening using mammography or breast X-rays can detect cancer at a very early stage. Early breast cancer detection helps reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer. However, a mammogram can be less effective in women with breast implants as it can’t see through the implant well enough. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about breast cancer screening with breast implants.
What is a Mammogram?
In the UK, 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Breast cancer screening involves checking a woman’s breast for cancer even before there are any signs and symptoms.
Although breast cancer screening doesn’t prevent breast cancer, it can help detect the disease early, when it’s still easy to treat. Various imaging tests help to screen for breast cancer, but the most common is a mammogram.
A mammogram is an X-ray test that can spot cancers when they are too small to see or feel. For many women, regular mammograms are the best way of finding breast cancer early. If breast cancer is detected early or before you start developing symptoms, it’s much easier to treat.
Having regular mammograms lowers the risk of dying from breast cancer. The NHS invites all women at their 50th birthday to a breast cancer screening every three years. This is because the likelihood of getting breast cancer increases with age.
Can You Have a Mammogram with Breast Implants?
One of the most common myths about breast implants is that you can’t have regular breast screenings like other women. The truth is, breast implants should never hinder you from getting a mammogram or any other breast imaging test.
If you have breast implants, it’s vital that you still get regular breast screenings as recommended by your GP. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need to tell your radiographer that you have breast implants. If you have had a total mastectomy or a breast reconstruction with implants, then you don’t need breast cancer screening. This is because they remove all the breast tissue at that time.
There is, however, a downside when it comes to getting breast imaging when you have implants. The X-ray used in mammograms can’t go through saline or silicone implants well enough to check for cancer in the breast tissue. This is, however, not a reason to skip your regular mammograms.
During a normal mammogram, the radiologist takes X-ray pictures of the breasts from two different angles. If you have implants, the radiographer takes a few more X-rays. It is one of the reasons why you should go for cancer screening at a facility where there is an expert well versed in taking mammograms when breast implants are present.
How Do You Screen for Breast Cancer with Implants?
Mammograms help detect breast cancer early. Regular mammograms can also help identify issues with breast implants like leakage or rupture. Getting a mammogram when you have breast implants is actually not that different from the one taken without implants.
However, because of materials like silicone and saline used in breast implants, the screening requires a few extra steps. There are a few considerations to make if you are going for imaging with breast implants present.
- The imaging technologist should know beforehand that they’ll be examining a person with breast implants.
- The imaging technologist needs to have experience examining someone with breast implants.
- Multiple images might be necessary to make a proper diagnosis.
- You might experience some discomfort during the imaging test.
When taking breast X-rays, the radiographer presses each breast between 2 special plates on the X-ray machine. Only minimal pressure is usually applied, and there is no evidence that the pressure applied can cause a rupture to the implant.
Most surgeons place breast implants in the subglandular position (above the muscle). Why? Recovery is faster and less painful than when placed under the muscle. As such, breast implants can obscure breast X-rays making it hard to screen for breast cancer. For extra X-rays, only the tissue in front of the implant requires examining and not the implant itself. If you have any concerns, speak to your radiographer.
During a mammogram, the breast implant gets pushed back against the chest, and the breast is then pulled up in front of it and compressed. This helps get better imaging of the front part of the breasts to better examine the breast tissues.
The extra images are normally referred to as implant displacement (ID) views. ID views are harder to do, and they are also uncomfortable, especially if scar tissue has formed around the implants.
About 4 in 100 women are called back to a breast clinic after breast cancer screening. This could be because the image isn’t clear enough, or something may look unusual but be completely normal. You must speak up about your implants before your appointment, so your radiographer knows what to expect. Besides shifting the implant to expose the breast tissues, the technologist also needs to apply less pressure on the breasts.
Breast cancer forms when malignant cells form in the breast tissues. The most common type of breast cancer occurs in the ducts, the tubes that carry milk to the nipples. Breast cancer occurs in women more than men, and the risk increases with age. The most common sign of breast cancer is a lump or a mass in the breast.
Breast cancer screening in the UK has come a long way, yet about 12,000 women die from breast cancer every year. This is because most breast cancer cases get diagnosed when symptoms have already appeared, making it hard to treat. The reason for that is that most women with breast cancer don’t have any symptoms.
That’s why regular breast cancer screening (symptoms or no symptoms) is necessary, especially, as you advance in age. The breast cancer screening age is 50 to 70. It’s usually not recommended for women below 40 to go for screening mammograms. However, there are a few exceptions.
Women with certain genetic mutations should begin screening at the age of 25. Likewise, if you have a family history of breast cancer, consider going for screening 10 years earlier than the affected family member was.
Whether you have breast implants or not, being breast aware is essential. That means knowing what is normal and reporting any unusual changes to your doctor. Breast Cancer Now recommends that you check your breasts using the TLC method:
- Touch your breasts and feel if anything is unusual
- Look for changes and any differences
- Check any new changes with your GP
Regular breast cancer screening is key for the early detection of breast cancer. The earlier the cancer is found, the better the chance of surviving it. When breast cancer gets detected early, you’re less likely to need a mastectomy or chemotherapy. Screening, early detection, and diagnosis can improve survival rates and quality of life. And the good news is that breast cancer screening is possible for all women, including those who have breast implants. If you have certain genetic mutations or a family history of breast cancer, you must request breast cancer imaging tests before breast augmentation surgery.
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