If your healthcare 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.
He or she will also give you a physical exam, including an exam of your breasts. You may have one or more of the following tests.
- Mammogram. A screening mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. The purpose of a screening mammogram is to find cancer early. A diagnostic mammogram is performed in women who are called back from a screening mammogram for additional imaging of a screen detected abnormality; asymmetry, mass, microcalcifications, or architectural distortion. A diagnostic mammogram uses imaging to look more closely at changes that were found during a screening mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram is also performed in women who present with symptoms and signs of possible breast cancer such as a potential mass, area of thickening, focal pain, and nipple discharge.
- 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, and do not utilize radiation.
- Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test examines the tissues in the breast by using radio waves and magnets without radiation.
The Comprehensive Breast Care Center offers tomosynthesis screening, a 3-D technology that 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 all of this information into one three dimensional image. Recall rates from screening decrease when tomosynthesis is performed.
Because a scan with tomosynthesis is more comprehensive than a regular mammogram, it is able to 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.
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 cancer.
A breast biopsy is done with local anesthesia by a breast radiologist. Local anesthesia uses medicine 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.
Patients will be called within five days after biopsy by a nurse navigator. Further management will be recommended at that time.
For more information on diagnosis, treatment and more of breast cancer, visit our breast cancer information pages below.