Diagnosis Procedures for Breast Cancer

Diagnosis Procedures for Breast Cancer

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

It is important to remember that a lump or other changes in the breast, or an abnormal area seen on a mammogram, may be caused by cancer or, more often, by other, less serious problems.

To determine the cause of any signs or symptoms you may have, your doctor will perform a careful physical exam that includes a personal and family medical history, as well as questions about your current overall health status. An examination that includes the following will also be done:

In addition to a physical examination by your doctor, imaging tests will be performed. Imaging tests may include one or more of the following:

Based on these exams, your doctor may decide that no further tests are needed and no treatment is necessary. In such cases, your doctor may want to check you regularly to watch for any changes.

Often, however, the doctor must remove fluid or tissue from the breast to be sent to the lab to look for cancer cells. The procedure is called a biopsy. It can be done using a needle to get a piece of the area of concern, or it can be done with surgery.

A biopsy removes tissue or cells from the body for examination under a microscope. It is the only way to know for sure if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

Biopsies may be done under local or general anesthesia. Local anesthesia means drugs are used to numb the area of the breast that the needle will be put into. General anesthesia means you will be given drugs to put you into a deep sleep while the biopsy is being done. There are several types of breast biopsy procedures. The type of biopsy done will depend on the location and size of the breast lump or abnormality.

Types of breast biopsy procedures include, but are not limited to, the following:

There are special instruments and techniques that may be used to guide the needles and to assist with biopsy procedures. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

A procedure, called sentinel node biopsy, is used to see if cancer cells have spread to the lymph nodes. This surgical procedure may be done sometime after the biopsy during the initial diagnostic period to aid in staging of the breast cancer. This procedure involves injecting a dye and/or radioactive substance into the tumor. This injection helps to locate the lymph node that the tumor drains into first (the sentinel node)--the one that is most likely to have cancer cells present if the cancer has spread. The surgeon removes the lymph node that absorbs the dye and radioactive substance and sends it to the pathologist to examine it closely for the presence of cancer cells.

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