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8 Standard Tests And Procedures In Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Breast cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in US women. As per the report published by BreastCancer.Org, about 13% of the total US women population will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.

In 2021, it is estimated that more than 40,000 US women will die of breast cancer. Fortunately, breast cancer is treatable if diagnosed early.

Let?s discuss breast cancer, its causes, symptoms, process of diagnosis, and the different treatment alternatives and possibilities.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in breast cells. This cancer is a lot more common in women. But in some cases, men also can also get diagnosed with it. In the United States, it is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in women after skin cancer.

What Causes Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when genes that regulate cell growth start mutating. This mutation makes the cells produce and multiply abnormally. These abnormal cancer cells usually overrun the growth of other healthy breast tissue, and in some cases, move to the lymph nodes under the arms. These lymph nodes are an elemental pathway to promote the cancer cells? movement to other body parts. Generally, this cancer first begins in either the lobules (glands responsible for producing milk) or the tubes (pathways to transfer milk from the lobules to the nipple) of the breast.

Apart from this, it can also start in the fibrous connective or fatty tissue inside the breast. It is also estimated that about 5 to 15 percent of breast cancers are hereditary and occur due to gene mutations passed by generations of a bloodline.

Accounting for approximately 12% of all new annual cancer cases all over the globe, according to the WHO, it has become the most common cancer globally as of 2021.

What Are The Symptoms Of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer warning signs and symptoms may not be the same for all women. Some initial breast cancer symptoms normally appear as a lump in the breast or near the armpit.
A few other common symptoms may include:

  • A change in the look or feel of the breast or nipple
  • Constant pain in the armpits or breast
  • Nipple discharge with possible traces of blood
  • Redness of the breast
  • Sudden change in the size or shape of the breast
  • Peeling or scaling of the skin on the breast or nipple
  • Rashes on and around nipples

Note: Most breast lumps are not necessarily cancerous. However, it is best to be sure and visit cancer care specialists for an examination.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis & Detection

Breast Cancer is detected after the symptoms appear, but numerous women with it experience no symptoms at all. For this reason, routine screenings are important.

Some standard tests and procedures to help in breast cancer diagnosis are:

  1. Breast exam

    After going through your medical history, possible risk factors, and symptoms, your doctor will start with a breast examination. The specialist examines the breasts for lumps and some other visible symptoms and abnormalities. It is a physical examination done by a doctor and generally does not need any equipment.


  2. Mammogram

    This is the most common type of x-ray test done during a primary screening. Mammograms are administered to detect breast cancer in women with no apparent symptoms. Mammography helps a specialist identify breast lumps, abnormalities and determine if the indicative symptoms you have are because of the presence of cancer.

    There are two types of mammograms: diagnostic and screening. In comparison to screening, diagnostic mammograms are more detailed x-rays of the breast done using specialized techniques.


  3. Ultrasound

    An ultrasound uses sound waves that do not affect the breast tissue to create a clear picture of the deep breast tissues. If a suspicious site or lump is detected in the breast on a screening mammogram, experts may ask for a breast tissue ultrasound. It also provides help in distinguishing between a solid mass and a fluid-filled cyst.


  4. Magnetic Resonance Imaging

    Also known as MRI, these tests are used as a screening tool for people with a higher risk of breast cancer and help in identifying cancer, the extent of the disease, and other abnormalities. MRI can be recommended as a follow-up to a mammogram or an ultrasound.


  5. Scintimammography

    This is an imaging test, also identified as nuclear medicine breast imaging. This test investigates a breast abnormality discovered during mammography. The procedure is non-invasive, and the patient requires an injection of a radioactivity-emitting drug for this test. This test helps a physician determine the presence of cancer and clear the necessity of a biopsy or additional follow-ups. Since this is not a primary screening tool and cannot substitute mammography, it is used as a screening tool for women who cannot undergo MRI screening and have an elevated risk for breast cancer.


  6. Biopsy

    A biopsy is a procedure in which the doctor obtains a breast tissue or fluid sample from the suspicious area for laboratory analysis. These removed samples are analyzed under a microscope and also tested to check for the presence of cancer cells. A biopsy is the only diagnostic way to confirm if the cells are cancerous, the type of cancer that has developed, and also provide a complete picture of the situation. Three types of biopsy procedures are:

    • Fine-needle aspiration
    • Core-needle biopsy
    • Surgical biopsy

  7. Lab Tests

    If an individual is already diagnosed with breast cancer, she may need additional lab tests to assist with further prognosis. The two commonly done lab tests are the hormone receptor test and the HER2/neu test. Outcomes of these tests provide insight into possible treatment options effective for cancer an individual has.


  8. PET and CT Scan

    This is a nuclear imaging test that combines PET and CT scans and provides images pinpointing the location of abnormal cells in the breasts. It helps with the detection of the cancer, determines the spread, and estimates the possibility and effectiveness of a treatment plan. This test also determines if cancer has come back after the treatment.

Staging Breast Cancer

Once you are diagnosed with breast cancer, another step is to establish the stage or extent of cancer. Cancer staging helps in determining the prognosis and the best possible treatments. Some diagnosis and procedures for staging area:

  • Blood tests
  • Mammogram
  • Breast MRI
  • PTE and CT scan
  • Bone scan

One doesnt need to go through all these tests and procedures. Just the appropriate tests based on specific circumstances and symptoms one may be experiencing.

Breast cancer is classified into 0 to IV stages. Where 0 indicates cancer that is noninvasive, Stage IV cancer indicates cancer that has spread to other areas of the body.

Breast Cancer Treatments


If breast cancer diagnosis results in positive, doctors determine the treatment possibility and alternatives based on the type and its spread. The patients overall and preferences are also considered before the treatment is started. Some widely used treatments options for breast cancer are:

  1. Breast cancer surgery

    This treatment includes the removal of either one or both breasts and affected lymph nodes. Apart from this, some other surgeries are:

    Lumpectomy: Removal of the tumor and a small margin of encircling healthy tissue.

    Mastectomy: Surgery to remove all of your breast tissue.

  2. Radiation therapy

    This therapy uses high-energy radiation beams to destroy cancer cells. Specialists may suggest radiation therapy after a mastectomy for larger cancers or the ones spread to the lymph nodes.

  3. Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses medications to suppress fast-growing cancer cells. If cancer has a higher possibility of recurrence or spread, chemotherapy may be recommended after surgery. Chemotherapy may also be recommended to shrink a tumor size or to control cancer and its symptoms.

  4. Immunotherapy

    This therapy uses substances that are made in the laboratory to boost the body?s innate defenses to combat cancer. Immunotherapy treatment can be used alone, as well as combined with other treatments.


An individual❜s outlook on breast cancer depends on the staging, detection, and treatment. Timely detection and treatment usually lead to a positive outlook. Survival rates for breast cancer are estimations and statistics, usually based on earlier results of individuals with a particular type of cancer.

These statistics only give an idea of the survival percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer after their breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. These do not predict how long an individual will survive or the results of any patient❜s case and only contribute to a better understanding of possible treatments with their success rate.

If you have any questions, book your appointment today at ACTC health.

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