If a screening test finds a suspicious area in your breast tissue, doctors use a variety of diagnostic tests to determine if cancer is present and if it has spread to other areas.
Marshfield Clinic Cancer Specialists have a number of diagnostic tools to help determine if cancer is present and to aid in assessing the extent it has spread.
The size, location and other factors may determine the type of diagnostic test used. Here are the most common diagnostic tests.
Diagnostic Tests: Biopsy
A biopsy takes a sample of tissue or fluid from a suspicious area in your breast. The sample is evaluated for the presence of cancer and other factors.
There are several different types of biopsy and your doctor will choose the best option for you.
Biopsies range from a simple needle insertion to the surgical removal of part or all of the suspicious tissue. Depending on what examination of the sample reveals, further testing may be required.
Diagnostic Tests: Diagnostic Mammogram
A diagnostic mammogram is a more detailed look at any suspicious area in your breasts identified through a screening mammogram or clinical examination.
The greater detail of suspicious areas helps spot cancer that may be partially hidden due to naturally-occurring lumps or dense breast tissue.
Diagnostic Tests: Ultrasound
Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the breast or a suspicious spot in the breast. It is painless and can often be done in a doctor's office or clinic laboratory.
Ultrasounds cannot detect the presence of cancer, however they can tell your doctor whether a suspicious area is solid (such as a benign lump or cancer), filled with fluid (such as a cyst) or a combination.
Your doctor can also use an ultrasound to guide a needle biopsy.
Younger women (under age 30) may not be good candidates for mammograms due to changes in breast tissue associated with producing milk.
Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound rather than a mammogram to help identify lumps you feel under your skin, however the test is not helpful for all women, since its effectiveness varies with different types of breast tissue.
Diagnostic Test: MRI
In some cases, a diagnostic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be appropriate in identifying possible cancers. MRIs receive mixed reviews from cancer professionals, however the test can be helpful in certain circumstances.
Your doctor may order an MRI to confirm a suspicious mass discovered in a screening mammogram or in a clinical examination.
MRIs may be helpful diagnosing suspicious tissue in younger women whose breasts may be too dense for a conventional mammogram.
MRIs are safe (they use no radiation) and can offer an additional diagnostic process in certain cases. Your doctor will help you decide if an MRI can improve the diagnostic process.
If you have been diagnosed with a cancer, other tests may be employed to help determine the exact type of cancer, whether it has spread or not and whether it is responding to treatment.
Tests can monitor your treatment progress and signal your doctor if other treatment options should be considered.