Breast Cancer Review

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

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.

The Tests

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.

The Biopsy

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.

Breast Cancer Resources

American Cancer Society

People Living With Cancer

United States National Library of Medicine

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

Health Coverage from Health Insurance .org

WebMD Health

Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation

National Cancer Institute

Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Y-ME National Breast Cancer Foundation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania

Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Women’s Information Network Against Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer

Cancer News On the Net

Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition

Mothers Supporting Daughters With Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Online

National Breast Cancer Coalition

Breast Cancer Fund

Breast Cancer Action

Breast Cancer Care

Breast Cancer Campaign

Cancer BACUP

Canadian Breast Cancer Network

Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Breast Cancer Action – Ottawa

Info Breast Cancer

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation

National Breast Cancer Centre

National Breast Cancer Foundation

New South Wales Breast Cancer Institute

Early Warning Signs
Breast Tumor Information
Self-Exams & Diagnosis
Stage 3 Breast Cancer
Stage 4 Breast Cancer
Advanced Breast Cancer

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