Can Weight Loss Affect Mammogram Results?

Weight loss improves general health and makes positive changes to your body. Breast tissue is made up of fatty tissue and milk glands.  When you lose weight the amount of fatty tissue decreases.  This changes the composition of the breast which can change mammogram results.  A mammogram is used to screen for breast cancer.

According to figures released by Cancer Research UK, breast cancer is Britain’s most common form of cancer.  It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in their lives. Although breast cancer rates are rising more people are surviving up to ten years after diagnosis.

Obesity can increase the risk of breast cancer so weight loss can reduce that risk.  Other risks include family history, HRT, the contraceptive pill and alcohol intake.  An active lifestyle can reduce the risk.  However many people just get it due to bad luck as they have lived a relatively healthy life.

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How Do You Detect Breast Cancer?

The breast is made up of fatty tissue, lobes, lobules, milk ducts and the lymph system.  It is in these structures that cancer begins to grow.  If cancer is found in the lymph nodes (normally found in the armpits) further examination is made to find out how much has spread into the breast tissue.

Breast cancer is detected through self-examination and mammograms. Changes in the texture of the breast and nipples can also be a sign of cancer.  It is important that you know what your breast feels like normally so that you can detect changes quickly.  

Weight loss changes how your breast feels and how it looks on a mammogram.  If you lose a considerable amount of weight it is important that you are screened again to check for any changes.

What Is A Mammogram?

In the UK women between the ages of 50 and 70 are screened for breast cancer every three years.  If the condition runs in the family you may be invited for screening early because you are considered high risk.  You will only be invited if you are registered with a GP.  It is advised that if you haven’t been contacted by the age of 53 you should get in touch with your doctor’s surgery.

A mammogram produces an x-ray of your breast.  It can pick cancer up at an early stage so that treatment is less invasive.  Many people feel reassured after finding out that there isn’t any cancer.  However, the process can be very uncomfortable and changes can be detected that wouldn’t normally cause alarm.  Eight in ten women over fifty are diagnosed with cancer in this way.

You should still continue to check your breasts for changes between screenings as you know your body better than anyone else.

How Weight Loss Affects Breast Screening

Weight loss actually makes cancer detection more difficult.  It is much easier to identify cancer in the breast with denser breast tissue.  This is because all of the nodules, lobes and milk ducts are not as prominent.  The x-ray will require greater analysis because the doctors will have to differentiate between normal growths and abnormal growths in the breast.

If you have successfully followed a weight loss plan and have lost a considerable amount of weight your mammogram reading will be different.  You may have to be tested more because it will be more difficult to detect breast cancer.

(Sources: NHS.UK, Nationalbreastcancer.org, obesityhelp.com, gehealthcare.com)

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By Parv Sagoo (April 2018)