The Various Types of Breast Cancer Tests and What You Must Know

Breast cancer begins when there is the development of abnormal cells in the body. These cells grow in an uncontrolled manner within the breast tissue. Though the outcome for breast cancer is different for every woman, early detection and timely diagnosis can make major improvements.

Your doctor would prescribe you an appropriate test for breast cancer based on your symptoms, cancer staging, and health condition. But it is best to have at least the basic knowledge about various types of breast cancer tests.

Even if you are at a young age and don’t require annual mammograms, still, it is essential to perform self-breast examinations every month. This will help you identify changes in the breast like dimpling, inverted nipple, lumps or redness. Most importantly, if you are a threat with breast cancer then your doctor would conduct an annual checkup.

Different kinds of diagnostic tests for breast cancer are designed to diagnose and detect the ailment at an early stage. So, let’s begin by understanding them one by one.


Mammograms on a yearly basis are suggested to women over 45 years of age and more. But you can start the screenings as early as you are 40.

A mammogram is obtained in a form of X-ray that allows you to take pictures of the breasts from different angles. Such images aid doctors to identify abnormalities in the breast like masses, which can be the advent of cancer.

Just remember, an abnormality in the mammogram does not always imply you have breast cancer. But its presence indicates the need for further testing.

Breast MRI Scan

An MRI scan of the breast is not a typical screening tool for breast cancer. It is because this test involves a higher risk of negative positives. However, if there are certain risk factors for breast cancer, you must get it done as a precaution. Your doctor may suggest a breast MRI scan along with the annual mammograms.

An MRI scan of the breast is known as magnetic resonance imaging, which uses radio waves and magnets to check different kinds of abnormalities in the breast. This kind of test is done when other imaging examinations are inconclusive or inadequate to screen for breast cancer in women with a higher risk of developing the ailment. It also helps to monitor the progression of breast cancer as well as to identify the effectiveness of the prescribed treatment.

Your doctor would suggest you an MRI scan for the breast if you experience one or more of the following conditions:

  • Symptoms of breast cancer
  • Dense breast tissue
  • Ruptured or leaking breast implant
  • Precancerous changes in the breast
  • Lump in the breast
  • Family history of breast cancer

Though a breast MRI can identify most of the abnormalities, there are certain breast cancers, which a mammogram can better showcase.

Breast Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound is a test utilizing sound waves to generate images of the internal parts of the body. If a mass is detected through a mammogram, your doctor would suggest you undertake an ultrasound in order to identify the mass in detail. Moreover, patients are asked for a breast ultrasound if a visible lump appears on their breast. This test is quite different from CT scans and X-rays as it does not use radiation and is considered ideal for breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women.

With the help of breast ultrasound, your doctor is able to identify any suspicious lump in the breast. It also helps them to know the size and location of the lump as well as whether the lump is a solid tumor or a filled cyst.

In addition to this, a breast ultrasound helps to assess whether the lump is cancerous or not. This can only be identified is a sample of fluid or tissue is removed from the lump and send for testing. During the process of biopsy, your doctor uses a breast ultrasound as a guide to removing the fluid or sample tissue. The sample obtained is sent in the laboratory for further analysis.

In addition to identifying the nature of breast abnormality, a breast ultrasound may be performed on women who must avoid radiation, like:

  • Pregnant women
  • Women less than 25 years
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Women who have done silicone breast implants

Breast Biopsy

A biopsy is a surgical process that removes the sample tissue from a mass or lump to determine whether it is benign or cancerous. It is mainly an outpatient surgical process.

There are different ways to conduct a breast biopsy, depending on the tumor size. If the tumor is small and not much suspicious, a surgeon would perform a needle biopsy. During the process, the surgeon inserts a needle into the breast and removes the piece for sample tissue. You may require a surgical biopsy for a bigger size lump. This removes part or the entire lump. The surgeon may also remove enlarged lymph nodes.

The biopsies are of critical importance for tissue evaluation.

  • Core Needle Biopsy – This process involves using a bigger needle and a tube for extracting a sample tissue up to the pen size. The needle is supported by an ultrasound, mammography or feel. A computerized version of this biopsy that is known to deliver many accurate results is known as a stereotactic breast biopsy.
  • Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy – This technique is practiced when there is a solid lump in the breast. The doctor uses a thin needle and retracts a small tissue piece, which is sent for study. This technique is practiced sometimes to identify a suspected cystic lump and to make sure there is no cancerous cyst.
  • Sentinel Node Biopsy – This is another form of biopsy which is practiced in the lymph node where cancer is expected to spread first. Usually, the biopsy is extracted from the lymph nodes within the armpit or axilla region. The sample is tested to determine the presence of cancer and its spread.
  • Open or Surgical Biopsy – Under this practice the surgeon removes a part of the entire area of the lump for testing under a microscope. If the lump is hard or small to locate by touch, the surgeon uses a process known as stereotactic wire localization. This helps to map out the route to the lump before the surgery.
  • Image – Guided Biopsy – For this kind of biopsy, the surgeon uses imaging technique such as an ultrasound to design a real-time image of the affected area, which can be easily felt or seen through the skin. The doctor uses this image to guide a needle to the ideal spot for gathering suspicious cells.

With the help of such biopsies, your doctor is able to identify the features of the tumor, the grade of cancer, and how well your cancer responds to prescribed treatments.

Tests to Identify Breast Cancer Stage

Once your diagnosis confirms breast cancer, you are then tested to identify its stage. Identifying the stage helps the doctor to determine the finest course of treatment. The stage of breast cancer depends on the size of the tumor and its spread in the body.

Based on the diagnosis, breast cancer is categorized under five stages.

  • Stage 0 – It is the stage when cancer has not spread to other tissues or organs of the body.
  • Stage 1 – It is the stage when the tumor is around 2 centimeters and has not spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2 – At this stage, the tumor is around 2-5 cm and cancer spreads to areas surrounding lymph nodes in the breast.
  • Stage 3 – At this stage, the tumor is more than 5cm and cancer spreads to other nearby tissues and lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 – It is when cancer spreads to other body parts.

In order to identify the correct stage, your specialists may perform additional tests to identify the signs of a tumor. These tests are:

  • Bone Scan – It is done when metastasized cancer spreads to the bones. This scan enables the doctor to check the bones for cancerous cells.
  • MRI Scan – Though this is not a typical screening test, it is effective to stage breast It creates digital images of various body parts and can help your doctor identify whether cancerous cells have spread to the brain, spinal cord, or other parts of the body.
  • CT scan – It is another kind of X-ray practiced to create detailed pictures of your organs. It is mainly practiced if cancer has spread to the stomach or chest area.
  • PET scan – This is a special kind of test where the doctor injects a certain dye into the vein. As the dye passes through the body, 3-dimensional images of inside the body are created, which help doctors to identify the exact location of tumors.

On a Concluding Note

If your clinical examination or mammogram raises concerns, you must follow up with other tests. It is possible to cure breast cancer in most of the cases, but death can occur is the ailment is not detected at an early stage.

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