Diagnosing Breast Cancer

What if you get a call from the diagnostic center saying they need additional tests?

Keep in mind that only 2-4 women out of every 1,000 who receive mammograms are diagnosed with breast cancer, so stay calm. Out of those same 1,000 mammograms, however, approximately 100 (1 in 10) will need to come back for additional images or tests. This can be for a wide variety of reasons, including dense breast tissue. (Dense breast tissue makes it more difficult for the x-ray to “see” an abnormality.)

The radiologist might order additional mammogram films, a breast MRI, or a breast ultrasound to try to get a better visual image of the area of concern in your breast.

If there is an area the radiologist is especially concerned about, he or she will order a biopsy to obtain tissue for further evaluation. This tissue is then sent to the lab, where the cells are examined to determine whether or not they are cancerous. Biopsies can be done in several ways and are performed by either a radiologist or a surgeon.

  • Fine Needle Aspirations (FNA) is used to withdraw fluid from the area of concern. Sometimes ultrasound is used to guide the needle.
  • Stereotactic Core Biopsy obtains a larger amount of tissue than the FNA. This type of biopsy is done with a local anesthetic to numb the breast.
  • Surgical Biopsy is done in an operating room, and obtains larger amounts of tissue. Based on findings, the surgeon may proceed to remove the whole lump and surrounding tissue during this procedure.

To learn more about these procedures, see: Breast Lumps: Next Steps After
Discovering Suspicious Breast Tissue
.

Pathology
The tissue obtained through FNA, stereotactic biopsy or surgery is then sent to the Pathologist who will examine the tissue in the lab to determine if the cells are cancerous. Additionally, if the tissue is cancerous, the pathologist will determine what type of cancerous cells are present, which is critical in determining the best treatment for the disease. To learn more about the most common types of breast cancer, see: Types of Breast Cancer.


 

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