Breast Cancer: Diagnosis and Staging
If a mammogram shows an abnormality in the breast, your doctor will follow up with a series of tests to determine whether cancer is present. A cancer diagnosis is nearly always made by an expert looking at cell or tissue samples under a microscope. Before diagnosing cancer, at Woman’s, a second expert will always review the sample.
The time between an abnormal mammogram and a diagnosis can be a stressful period. To reduce a woman’s anxiety over her health uncertainty, Woman’s strives to present a cancer or non-cancer diagnosis within seven days of finding an abnormality in mammography.
Lumps that might be malignant (cancer) may be found by imaging studies or felt as masses during a physical exam, but they still must be sampled and looked at under a microscope to find out what they are. The procedure that takes a sample for this testing is called a biopsy.
It is important to remember that a lump or other changes in the breast, or an abnormal area on a mammogram, may be caused by cancer or by other less serious problems. Not all lumps are malignant.
To determine the cause of any signs or symptoms, your physician will perform a careful physical exam that includes:
- Personal and family medical history
- Current overall health status
- Other breast exams, including feeling the lump, diagnostic mammography and an ultrasound
Based on these exams, your physician may decide a biopsy is needed for a proper diagnosis.
If cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will want to know how far along the tumor has advanced, and this is done through a process called staging.
The stage of a cancer is the most important factor in choosing treatment options. The stage is based on whether the cancer is invasive or non-invasive, the size of the tumor, how many lymph nodes are involved and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Breast cancer staging can be complex. Be sure to ask your doctor to explain your stage in a way you understand. This will help you both decide on the best treatment for you.