Often times, diagnosing breast cancer is a very detailed process. Once it has been established that additional imaging and tests are required for further evaluating a breast problems (ie. Breast lump, nipple discharge, skin changes, an abnormal mammogram) a diagnostic test should be performed.
Most of the time, these tests are done at specialized breast imaging facilities. Make sure you choose a breast imaging facility that is right for you.
Results from these diagnostic tests will give you the answers you are looking for! After all, the only thing worse than discovering you have breast cancer is having breast cancer and never knowing.
Tools for Diagnosing Breast Cancer:
There are many diagnostic tools that can be used in diagnosing breast cancer as well as other benign breast conditions. Each tool is used to different types of problems and symptoms. Your doctor will know which is right for you.
What is it? A diagnostic mammogram is a set of special, additional mammograms pictures that a radiologist may require before making a confirming a decision about your breast.
This tool is often used if a woman has an abnormal mammogram. It is one of the most common tools that are used in diagnosing breast cancer. Such images may include magnified pictures for small areas in the breast or angled pictures to add another dimension to another mammogram.
How is it performed? A mammographer will take a set of pictures (ranging from 1 pictures to many pictures) that the radiologist needs. The use of stickers during a diagnostic mammogram are common.
These stickers may be placed over a lump, a scar or a area of pain. This will mark this area on the mammogram for the radiologist. Slight discomfort during the mammogram is a possibility, however, compression during a diagnostic mammogram typically does not last long.
Who benefits from it? Almost all women with any breast problems or abnormal mammograms benefit from diagnostic mammograms.
Breast Ultrasound (Sonography)
What is it? Ultrasound is a type of imaging that uses high-frequency sound waves. It is a very common tool that is used in diagnosing breast cancer.
As these sound waves bounce off of the breast tissue, they are converted into images on a computer monitor. These images can help to further diagnose a breast problem.
How is it performed? Ultrasound on a breast is performed very similarly to ultrasound done on other locations of the body.
The ultrasound technologist applies a gel (hopefully warm) on the skin of the breast. The technologist uses the ultrasound transducer to slide on the surface of the breast to the are of interest. Several images and even movie clips of the ultrasound will be given to the radiologist to read.
Who benefits from it? Not all breast conditions and symptoms benefit from breast ultrasound. Patient with lumps, pain, and sometimes abnormal mammograms will gain benefit from breast ultrasound.
Breast ultrasound is a good way to screen for cancer. Also called sonography, it is derived from technology used to detect icebergs and submarines in war.
What is it? Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) uses a very powerful magnet to obtain extremely detailed pictures of your breast. These images are read alongside your mammogram. Breast MRI is an expensive tool that can be used in diagnosing breast cancer.
How is it performed? Typically a contrast agent is injected into your hand or arm with the use of an iv. You lay on a table with your stomach facing down and your breasts are placed in a device that is specially designed for breast MRI. The table slides into a donut-shaped machine. The exam is typically very loud and takes about 45 minutes.
Who benefits from it? Not all women benefit from diagnostic MRI imaging. If you have very dense breast tissue, a positive breast biopsy or breast implants, you may benefit from this procedure. In order for insurance to cover a Breast MRI, certain criteria must be met. Speak to your doctor to see if you would benefit from Breast MRI.
What is it? A breast aspiration is an invasive method of determining if a breast mass is a solid or a simply just fluid-filled. Breast aspirations may also be used to therapeutically treat painful breast cysts.
How is it performed? The radiologist will typically use breast ultrasound while performing a breast aspiration.
The radiologist will typically use a local anesthetic to numb the skin surface. While closely watching the ultrasound monitor, the doctor will slide the needle into the mass of interest. Once in place, the radiologist will pull back on the syringe that is attached to the needle.
It is obvious that this area is a fluid-filled mass if fluid appears in the syringe. However, if no fluid appears in the syringe and the doctor is still concerned with mass, a biopsy may then be needed. The entire process of a breast aspiration usually takes less than 10 minutes.
Who benefits from it? Patients with fibrocystic breasts and patients with questionable cystic areas in their breasts benefit greatly from breast aspirations.
What is it? Breast Biopsy is procedure where breast tissue is sampled and sent to the pathology department for a definitive diagnosis. This tool is most helpful in diagnosing breast cancer.
How is it performed? A radiologist typically does the breast biopsy with the use of mammography or ultrasound.
The area is first numbed with a local anesthetic. After the area is numb, the doctor uses biopsy device to remove actual pieces of breast tissue that make up the area of suspension.
Approximately 3-10 samples are taken of this specific area. You doctor may or may not decided to insert a breast marker-clip in this area after the biopsy is completed. A breast biopsy takes about 15 minutes.
Who benefits from it? Any patient that has a breast mass that is questionable to the radiologist will benefit from a breast biopsy. Breast biopsies take the ‘guess-work’ out of breast masses.
Some breast masses that form in the milk ducts cause nipple discharge. A galactogram is often required to evauluate nipple discharge.
Still not convinced….Want a Second opinion?
If you are still not convinced with your diagnosis, you can choose to have another facility evaluate your pathology results, your mammogram or all of your breast health information.