Breast cancer is often first suspected when a lump or a change is found in the breast or when an abnormal area is seen on a mammogram.
Most of the time, these findings don’t turn out to be cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is through follow-up tests.
This section describes how breast cancer is diagnosed and the factors that affect prognosis and guide treatment.
If your mammogram or clinical breast exam shows something abnormal, you will need follow-up tests to check whether or not the finding is cancer.
Sometimes, breast cancer can be ruled out with a follow-up mammogram (may be called a diagnostic mammogram), breast ultrasound or a breast MRI. However, if these tests show the finding might be breast cancer, you will need a biopsy.
A biopsy removes tissue from a suspicious area. The tissue is studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
There are two main types of biopsies used to diagnose (or rule out) breast cancer: needle biopsies and surgical biopsies. Most often, a needle biopsy is done first. Then, if needed, a surgical biopsy is done.
The breast tissue removed during a biopsy is sent to a pathologist. The pathologist examines the tissue and prepares a report of the findings, including the diagnosis.
Waiting for your biopsy results can be hard, and scary. Try to stay calm—most breast biopsies in the U.S. don’t show cancer .
So, your doctor said the words, “You have breast cancer” and suddenly, everything stopped. He or she probably kept talking, but chances are you didn’t fully understand everything that was said.
Learning more about the factors that affect prognosis and treatment can help you understand your diagnosis.
Whether you need a biopsy or have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you may have many questions and concerns. We prepared a list of questions that may be helpful in talking with your health care provider.
If breast cancer is found, it can be treated.
Breast cancer treatment is tailored to your specific breast cancer, the stage of the breast cancer, your overall health, age and other medical issues as well as your personal preferences.
Each treatment option has risks and benefits to consider along with your own values and lifestyle.
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