Breast cancer is usually diagnosed after either a routine
mammogram or doctor’s visit, or after a woman discovers a lump in her breast
and makes a doctor’s appointment.
A doctor will do a physical examination during which the breast
will be palpated gently to feel for any lumps or abnormalities, or a change in
shape or texture. The doctor will also check to see whether there are any signs
of lumps in your armpits.
There are three parts to diagnosing breast cancer:
- A physical breast examination
- A mammogram/ultrasound scan
- A needle core biopsy of fine
needle aspiration biopsy
A doctor will do a physical examination during which the
breast will be palpated gently to feel for any lumps or abnormalities, or a change
in shape or texture. The doctor will also check to see whether there are any
signs of lumps in your armpits.
The doctor will also ask about the patient’s medical history
to try and determine her risk factors for breast cancer.
The next step is to have a mammogram and/or breast
ultrasound scan done by a radiologist. The mammogram will produce an X-ray image
of your breasts and the breast ultrasound scan will use high-frequency sound
waves to create an image of the inside of your breasts.
Here’s what happens during a mammogram:
stand or sit in front of a special X-ray machine while the radiological
technologist lifts each breast and positions it on a platform that holds X-ray
plastic plate presses the breast against the platform. Pressure for a few
seconds means the X-ray dose can be lowered and ensures the X-ray shows as much
breast tissue as possible.
pressure is harmless and usually not painful, but it can be uncomfortable.
having mammograms when your breasts are tender, such as before your period.
Mammograms can pick up the presence of 85 – 90% of breast
tumours. They can pick these up before you can feel them.
The denser the breast tissue, the less effective a mammogram
is in picking up the presence of tumours. An ultrasound scan is recommended in
such cases. A breast ultrasound scan is also capable of revealing whether a
lump in your breast is solid, or whether it is filled with liquid (a cyst).
Lastly, if a mammogram or an ultrasound scan picks up any
abnormalities in the tissue of the breasts, a biopsy can be ordered. This
sampling of the tissue is done to make sure that a lump is not cancerous.
A fine-needle aspiration biopsy can be performed to
determine whether a lump is a benign cyst, or not. An examination under a
microscope can provide the answers.
At this stage of the examination, doctors can also order an
MRI scan, they can check nipple discharges or order a core needle biopsy or a
surgical biopsy. A surgical biopsy entails removing part of the lump for
Symptoms of breast cancer
Preventing breast cancer
Treating breast cancer
Sources: Health24.com; nhs.uk; breastcancercampaign.org