A breast cancer diagnosis in a patient following
testing and biopsy means her cells collected and studied are
of the malignant type. Unfortunately, it is certain these
cells will continue to grow and become life-threatening if
she is not treated. It cannot be emphasized enough that any
type of change a woman finds in her breast tissue and surrounding
areas needs to be examined by a physician as soon as feasible.
The doctor will then gather as much medical information as
possible from the patient, physically inspecting the patient’s
breasts, armpits, surrounding tissues and neck. If further
investigation is necessary, he will recommend several courses
of action. He will probably order a diagnostic mammogram which
will usually identify a breast tumor if one exists.
In the case of lumps that the doctor can feel but do not
show up on mammogram, which is the case in a few cancerous
lesions, the doctor will order further testing to hopefully
rule out a breast cancer diagnosis. For further imaging of
the breast, an ultrasound (or sonogram) may be ordered, which
often examines a specific area of the breast to determine
if a lump is filled with fluid or solid. The doctor may
perform a needle aspiration or needle biopsy also. In this
procedure, the physician guides a needle into the breast tumor
and draws out either fluid or tissue pieces into the needle.
These are then examined by a pathologist in a laboratory.
Or the physician may decide a surgical biopsy is the best
course for ruling out or establishing a breast cancer diagnosis.
A surgeon will then remove either the whole breast lump or
part of it and send it for laboratory examination. If the
biopsy determines the tissue is benign, there may be no further
medical treatment because these cells are not damaging and
will not spread. If there is a determination of breast cancer,
however, treatment will include additional testing, necessary
to determine the stage of progression of the disease. In some
instances, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a PET scan
are being recommended as diagnostic tests, along with CT scans,
possibly more mammograms of both breasts, blood tests, and
maybe further tests on the cancer cells, such as estrogen
and progesterone receptor tests. This is the “staging”
process which will establish the possible course of treatment,
allowing the patient knowledge of the type of cancer, its
characteristics and the options available for treatment.
The breast cancer diagnosis can be traumatic. But it will
help the woman to acquire a comprehensive understanding of
her type of cancer, its stage (size, lymph node involvement,
possibility of metastasis), her menopausal position, and her
level of general health. There is a large body of treatment
advancements that can then be utilized and tailored for each
woman and her unique disease characteristics.
Janet Brown is a medical writer
and graduate of Loyola University New Orleans. Her personal
experiences with breast cancer have drawn her to her current
work developing breast cancer patient education and awareness
materials. She currently lives in Georgia.