health

The 'triple breast test' every woman needs to know about.

Finding a lump in your breast is probably one of the scariest things I could imagine happening.

As a woman, being told to conduct regular self-exams is just one of the fun and exciting tests we have to look forward to on our health calendar.

But so far, touch wood, I haven’t ever had the experience of discovering anything untoward in one of these self-exams.

I do know, as most of us unfortunately do, women that have.

Recently, one of these women was my mother.

My mum is one of those people, common of a certain generation, who worries about every minor affliction (sniffles, a cough, cracked skin), but when something more sinister displays itself seems to avoid it for as long as possible.

So, when my mum told me she had found a lump in her breast there was no way I was letting her take her time getting it looked at.

Shona's mum with her granddaughter Mila.

I knew from the cases of other family and friends who have made similar discoveries that time is definitely of the essence and can ultimately make the world of difference to the prognosis.

With the news of this discovery, I made sure she visited her GP as soon as she could get an appointment (in fact I made it for her) and decided I’d accompany her on the visit just to make sure all details were explained and questions were asked.

After examining my mum, her GP then referred her for a mammogram and ultrasound, and then after that, a biopsy.

“Any good GP should offer a triple test,” my mother’s doctor told her.

Despite having close friends and family with breast cancer diagnosis, I had never heard of a triple test before, so I asked him what he meant.

He explained that without testing the cells there is no definitive way to confirm what is causing the lump or any abnormality within the breast tissue. In other words, although something may appear on a mammogram and/or ultrasound, without conducting a biopsy you can never be 100 per cent sure as to what it is.

His advice was to always be on the side of caution and best practice would suggest offering this ‘triple test’ whenever something appeared in either of these tests or throughout a self- examination.

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This advice in my eyes (although I’m far from a medical professional) seems to be common sense. It also turned out in my mum’s case to be potentially lifesaving.

The mammogram didn’t actually show the growth within her breast, which was actually in another location to the lump my mum had found herself - the lump she found was
dermatitis.

Breast cancer survivors walk the NYFW catwalk. Post continues after video...

The mammogram concluded that there was “No mass. No architectural distortion.” So, if the mammogram was the sole test performed on my mother, she would have effectively been given a clean bill of breast health.

However, the ultrasound did pick up something. It found another region of her breast within a duct which appeared abnormal.

The report and her GP concluded it was most likely “debris within the duct” or a “fibroadenoma” (a benign lump) but he still suggested having a biopsy to be 100 per cent sure as to what was creating the abnormality.

Through the ultrasound guided biopsy it was discovered that this area of concern was actually made up of pre-cancerous cells; something that could have only been found with this type of testing, the
third and usually last of this ‘triple test’.

Although she received a diagnosis that no person wants to hear, I still consider my mum incredibly lucky.

Given this discovery of pre-cancerous cells means my mum is in the most ideal position of anyone who has been given some sort of cancer or pre-cancer diagnosis, she is able to be proactive in her treatment at a stage before it has even turned into anything more serious.

Some women aren’t so lucky.

This ‘triple test’ is something all women should know. As the patient, even if you are not recommended a biopsy you always have the right to request one, and being sure with something like cancer can mean the difference between a positive outlook and a very different prognosis.

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