Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
by Michael Jubinville, MPH
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, and health and family history. The breasts will be check for lumps, thickening, nipple discharge or inversion, and changes in the skin. The underarm will also be checked. Keep in mind that cancer is not the cause of all breast changes. Testing will help find the cause so it can be treated.
You may need:
Blood tests are used to look for certain proteins or gene problems. Certain proteins (called tumor markers) are higher in people with cancer. Markers can also help find the stage cancer is in and if treatment is working. Blood tests are used to count certain types of blood cells to see if they are in the right range.
These tests are used to see structures in the breast and chest. Some tests use contrast material so structures easier to see. Common tests include:
A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. It can often find tumors that are too small to be felt. How correct the test is depends on tumor size, age, how dense the breast is, and the skill of the doctor looking at the x-ray. Despite its successes, mammograms will miss breast cancer in 15 of 100 women.
During an ultrasound, sound waves are bounced off tissues and turned into a picture. This test is used to check lumps that were found another way such as by exam or mammogram. They help to see if a mass is solid or liquid-filled. For the most part, solid masses are more of a worry.
Ultrasound may also be used to:
An MRI scan of the breast may find certain types of cancer easier than other tests. It is used when the breast is denser or if the doctor thinks cancer may be in both breasts. MRI scans can also be used if results from other tests do not match up.
Diagnosis of Breast Cancer
Other tests may hint there is breast cancer, but a biopsy is the only way to confirm it. During a biopsy, breast tissue is removed and looked at in a lab.
Biopsy types include:
An MRI scan or ultrasound can be used to guide the needle into the right place.
Staging of Breast Cancer
If breast cancer is found, results from tests taken and new tests will help find the stage of cancer. Staging is a way to find the type of tumor, how far it has spread, and if it is in the lymph nodes. All of this is used find the outlook and the best way to treat the cancer.
These tests include:
Stages of Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is staged from 0-4:
Treatment and outcomes depend on many factors such as the location, tumor size, stage, overall health, and age.
Breast cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/breast-disorders/breast-cancer. Updated January 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.
Breast cancer early detection and diagnosis. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection.html. Accessed March 12, 2019.
Breast cancer in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated November 26, 2018. Accessed March 11, 2019.
Palpable breast mass evaluation in women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated September 15, 2015. Accessed March 12, 2019.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy for breast cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated November 12, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2019.
Stages of breast cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/patient/breast-treatment-pdq#section/_148. Updated February 6, 2019. Accessed March 12, 2019.
Tumor markers. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/diagnosis-staging/diagnosis/tumor-markers-fact-sheet. Updated November 4, 2015. Accessed March 12, 2019.
Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/12/2019
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