Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Right From the Start

Getting the right diagnosis means getting the right treatment and, ultimately, having better outcomes.

Standard Diagnostic Procedures

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

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 of the above symptoms. Routine mammography saves lives, reducing a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer by 30 - 50 percent.

Roswell Park recommends women have an annual screening mammogram beginning at age 40. Having different risk factors may indicate a need for frequent or different testing. Learn whether you should have a different screening regimen at our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment & Prevention Program.

If symptoms or mammography results suggest breast cancer, you will likely have one or more of the following tests:

  • Ultrasound exam: Uses sound waves to create a picture inside the breast. Ultrasound can determine whether a lump is a benign cyst and can guide needle biopsy.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Uses radio waves and a powerful magnet to create picture of the breasts.
  • Blood tests: A sample of blood is checked to measure amounts of certain substances which can indicate disease.
  • Biopsy: Taking samples of the suspicious tissue to examine under a microscope can be done in one of these ways:
    • Fine needle aspiration: a thin needle extracts tissue or fluid
    • Hollow core needle biopsy: a wider needle extracts tissue sample
    • Excisional biopsy: removes an entire lump of tissue
    • Incisional biopsy: a portion of the suspicious tissue is removed

Staging Tests

Additional tests and imaging are sometimes necessary to learn more information about your cancer, such as the tumor’s size and whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs, such as the lungs. Whether or not cancer is found in these areas helps determine the stage of your cancer. These additional tests may include: