If your health care provider believes you may have breast cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. You should expect to be asked questions about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors and family history of disease. Understanding your background will help your provider make a diagnosis.

Your provider will also give you a physical exam, including an exam of your breasts. You may have one or more of the tests outlined here.

  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This radiation-free test examines the tissues in the breast by using radio waves and magnets.
  • Mammogram. A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. This imaging is used is to find cancer early. If an abnormality is detected, a diagnostic mammogram is performed when more imaging is needed. Abnormalities can include asymmetry, mass, microcalcifications or architectural distortion. A diagnostic mammogram is also performed in patients who present with symptoms and signs of possible breast cancer, such as a potential mass, area of thickening, focal pain and nipple discharge.
  • Tomosynthesis screening (3D mammography). The Comprehensive Breast Care Center uses 3D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis, for all screening and diagnostic mammograms. This 3D technology allows radiologists to see individual breast structures without the confusion of overlapping tissues. Tomosynthesis allows the technologist to take multiple X-ray pictures of each breast from many angles. A computer then combines this information into one three-dimensional image. The need to call patients back for additional imaging drops when tomosynthesis is performed. Because a scan with tomosynthesis is more comprehensive than a regular mammogram, it can find much smaller and earlier-stage cancers. A tomosynthesis exam will feel no different from a usual mammogram, except that it takes just four seconds longer.
  • Ultrasound. This test uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of body tissues on a computer screen. Ultrasounds are often used in addition to a mammogram to help determine if an area of concern is a solid tumor or a fluid-filled cyst. Ultrasounds do not use radiation.

Biopsy. A biopsy removes tissue or cells from the breast to be checked by a pathologist under a microscope. Results from a biopsy help determine if cells are cancerous. A breast radiologist uses local anesthesia to numb the area of the breast where a needle will be inserted. A biopsy may be performed with mammography, ultrasound or MRI guidance. Ask your provider about your specific type of biopsy to learn more.

stereotactic breast biopsy seal

After a biopsy is performed, patients will be contacted by a Markey team member to review results. Further management will be recommended at that time.

When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is common to feel a sense of urgency around starting treatment. However, in most cases, there is time to do the needed research to ensure that your diagnosis is correct. That may include getting a second opinion.

Our team of experts works together to diagnose, treat and prevent breast cancer, with a focus on individualized patient care.

Markey is among the best cancer centers in the nation when it comes to advanced treatment options, survival rates and experienced providers, according to U.S. News & World Report. As the first and only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Kentucky, Markey can serve many patients each year with rare and common cancers, including breast cancer.

Our specialized team is happy to work with your doctors and communicate to ensure confidence in your diagnosis.

Should I get a second opinion?

A second opinion can help to ensure that you get the latest and most effective therapy for treating breast cancer. The following are common reasons for seeking a second opinion after your initial diagnosis:

  • You are having difficulty understanding your diagnosis.
  • A dedicated team specialized in your cancer type may not be available in your area.
  • There may be uncertainty around the stage of breast cancer.
  • You may want to learn more about treatment options, including clinical trials and advanced technologies only available at an advanced center like Markey.
  • Your health insurance requires a second opinion before continuing toward treatment.

Questions to ask when getting a second opinion

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, you may have a lot on your mind. Here a few questions to keep in mind for your doctor when seeking a second opinion:

  • Is there a chance that my medical problem could have a different diagnosis?
  • Are there additional tests I should take before moving forward with treatment?
  • Do you recommend any treatments at this time?
  • What do you expect to happen if I wait or don't have the treatment?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • How long are treatment recovery periods?

For more information, visit these trusted national sources for educational tools and resources:

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NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 57 in the nation.