It can be frightening to suspect that you might have breast cancer. However, if you think that you might have breast cancer then the best thing that you can do for yourself is to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis because it is only with a diagnosis that you can begin treatment.
There are several steps involved with a breast cancer diagnosis. Many patients will go through some or all of the following steps:
Clinical exam by physician: a physician may conduct a clinical exam as part of a routine medical exam or because a symptom of breast cancer was recognized by the patient. A clinical breast exam consists of a doctor checking the patient’s breasts for lumps and other abnormalities. While a doctor cannot make a definitive diagnosis of breast cancer through a clinical exam, the doctor can decide whether further tests are necessary.
Mammogram: like a clinical exam, a mammogram can be done as part of routine medical care, especially in women over 35. It can also be ordered because a doctor observed a possible sign of cancer during a clinical exam. A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. A diagnostic mammogram may focus on a more specific area of the breast, take more pictures of the breast and take clearer pictures than a screening mammogram that is done as part of routine medical care without any symptoms of breast cancer being present.
Ultrasound: an ultrasound machine sends sound waves into the body to create a picture on a screen. Medical professionals can use ultrasounds to determine if a lump in the breast is solid, as it is for breast cancer, or filled with fluid, as it is with a noncancerous cyst.
MRI: an MRI uses magnetic resonance imaging to create a picture of the inside of the breast. It is often used in conjunction with a mammogram to give a detailed view of the breast tissue.
Biopsy: a biopsy is the definitive diagnostic tool that is used to diagnosis breast cancer. It is usually conducted by a surgeon or breast specialist. The surgeon or breast specialist will use a biopsy technique to take a tissue or fluid sample from the problematic area and have a pathologist test it to see if there are cancerous cells present. A biopsy can be performed in different ways depending on the location and size of the area to be tested. Sometimes a needle biopsy is performed and other times a surgical biopsy is performed. The pathologist will be able to determine if cancer is present and what kind of cancer it is so that an effective treatment plan can be developed.
The proper diagnosis of breast cancer is essential so that a patient receives the right type of cancer treatment and has the best chance of survival. Therefore, it is important that each patient be informed about the different diagnostic tools and that she have informed conversations with her physicians about the tests that are right for her.