Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women globally and – according to the WHO – impacts 2.1 million patients each year. Early detection is crucial to improve the course of the disease.
The outlook for patients diagnosed with breast cancer has been gradually improving, with significant progress made in recent decades. Nonetheless, despite medical advances, breast cancer causes the greatest number of cancer-related deaths among women. In 2018, it is estimated that 627,000 women died from breast cancer – that is approximately 15 percent of all cancer deaths among women.
Diagnosing the disease early and getting state-of-the-art treatment are the most important strategies to save the lives of patients. More than 90 percent of women diagnosed at the earliest stage survive the disease for at least five years, compared to around 15 percent for women diagnosed at the most advanced stage of the disease, according to Cancer Research UK.
Prevention and detection
Risk increases with age, with most breast cancers being found in women aged 55 and older. About 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning they result directly from gene changes (mutations) passed on from a parent.
Another risk factor is breast density. Dense breasts have relatively high amounts of glandular tissue and fibrous connective tissue and relatively low amounts of fatty breast tissue. Nearly half of all women aged 40 and older who get mammograms are found to have dense breasts. Breast density is often inherited, but other factors can influence it, and it impacts both breast cancer risk and the accuracy of a breast cancer screening test.
Women with dense breasts have a higher risk of breast cancer than women with fatty breasts. The risk rises with increasing density. Also, mammograms can be harder to read in women with dense breasts, which means cancer is more likely to be missed or detected only later, at an advanced stage. Therefore, breast density is an important risk factor for HCPs to consider when deciding whether a patient should have additional screening examinations.
Advice for patients
Diagnosis and breast cancer screening options
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass, but other symptoms are also possible. Any change in breast tissue should be checked by a health care provider. However, many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening is so important, especially for women at high risk.
Different tests can be used to look for and diagnose breast cancer. If a doctor detects an area of concern on a screening test (a mammogram), or if there are symptoms that could indicate breast cancer, more tests will be needed to get an accurate diagnosis.
Bayer’s diagnostic options for breast cancer
Every treatment starts with the right diagnosis. Contrast-enhanced X-ray mammography and breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may reveal additional breast cancers which are missed by standard mammography and other options, especially in women with high breast density. Bayer’s radiology portfolio ranges from contrast media to devices that support radiologists in their mission to provide early diagnosis and targeted treatment.