Breast Cancer Home > Breast Cancer Diagnosis

In order to make a diagnosis of breast cancer, a doctor usually begins by asking about the patient's history and performing a physical exam. Additional steps involved in making a diagnosis include mammograms, MRI tests, and fine-needle aspiration. Once breast cancer is confirmed, additional tests are used to determine the extent of the cancer and to plan treatment.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer: An Overview

If you have symptoms of breast cancer or a screening test result that suggests the disease, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or some other cause.
In order to make a breast cancer diagnosis, your doctor may:
  • Ask about your personal and family medical history.
  • Perform a physical exam.
  • Order a mammogram or other imaging procedure. These tests make pictures of tissue inside the breast.
After the tests, your doctor may decide that no other exams are needed, that you have a follow-up exam later on, or that you need to have a biopsy to look for cancer cells. A biopsy is a procedure in which a piece of tissue is removed so that it can be examined further.

Tests Used to Make a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Certain exams and tests your doctor may use when diagnosing breast cancer include:
  • Clinical breast exam
  • Diagnostic mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • MRI
  • Biopsy
  • Fine-needle aspiration
  • Additional tests.
Clinical Breast Exam
In this exam, your healthcare provider feels each breast for lumps and looks for other problems. If you have a lump, your doctor will feel its size, shape, and texture. Your doctor will also check to see if it moves easily.
Benign lumps often feel different from cancerous ones. Lumps that are soft, smooth, round, and movable are likely to be benign (noncancerous). A hard, oddly shaped lump that feels firmly attached within the breast is more likely to be cancer.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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