How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

Thanks to widespread breast cancer screening through use of mammography (X-ray of the breast), many breast cancers are found at an early stage and long before they would have caused any warning symptoms. Routine mammography saves lives, reducing a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer by about 30 to 50 percent.

Dr. Bonaccio explains the selective process of choosing the best state-of-the-art equipment and technology to diagnose and treat breast cancer.

Abnormal Mammogram or Exam?

If your mammogram or physician’s exam suggests an abnormality, or if you have symptoms (such as a lump) you may have one or more of thethese follow-up tests to rule out or confirm the presence of cancer:

  • Diagnostic mammography: This type of mammogram takes x-rays of the breast from additional viewpoints and can focus more closely on the area of concern.
  • Ultrasound exam: Ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create a picture of the inside the breast, can determine whether a lump is a benign cyst or a solid mass, and can guide needle biopsy. (Women younger than age 30 who have a palpable lump will likely have an ultrasound first.)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses radio waves and a powerful magnet to create a picture of the breasts.
  • Biopsy: Taking samples of the suspicious tissue to examine under a microscope can be done in one of these ways:
    • Hollow core needle biopsy: a wide needle extracts tissue sample
    • Fine needle aspiration: a thin needle extracts tissue or fluid
    • Excisional biopsy: surgery to remove the entire lump of tissue

It is almost always preferred to have a needle biopsy before any surgery is done – and needle biopsy can be done in most women.

After a Biopsy

If your biopsy is negative (shows no sign of cancer), you may resume your normal mammography schedule. If your biopsy is positive (shows signs of cancer), we understand how you feel and we are here for you. Take a deep breath and make an appointment with Roswell Park's Breast Oncology Team, who can explain your diagnosis and outline the treatment options best for you. Some women may need additional testing, such as women with large cancers, with many involved lymph nodes, or other symptoms, additional testing may include: