Breast Cancer Screening Tests

There are many ways to screen for breast cancer, and regular testing is the best way to catch breast cancer early, when it is most treatable. The standard screening tests are:

  • Breast Self-Exam - Performing monthly breast self-exams helps women know how their breasts normally look and feel. If done regularly, women will be more likely to notice changes, which can be signs of a problem. 

  • Clinical Breast Exam - A doctor checks the breasts, underarms and collarbone area for abnormalities. 

  • Screening Mammogram - Mammograms, or breast x-rays, are not perfect, but they are the best tool doctors have to find breast cancer early. Women ages 40 and older should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. Mammograms can show a breast lump or abnormality before it can be felt. 

Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

If you have a symptom or a result from a screening test that suggests cancer, your doctor may conduct one or more of the following tests:

  • Diagnostic Mammogram - Like screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms are x-rays of the breast, but they may involve different techniques and more views than screening mammograms. They take more detailed images of abnormal areas found on screening mammograms and to learn more about lumps or abnormalities in the breast. 

  • Ultrasound - Sound waves and a computer are used to create a picture of the breast, which can show whether a lump is solid or filled with fluid. Cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, are not cancerous. Solid masses may be. 

  • MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging uses magnets and radio waves to produce detailed images of the breast. MRIs are often used to screen high-risk women and to gather more information about a suspicious finding on a mammogram. 

  • Biopsy - A pathologist looks at a sample of tissue under a microscope to check for cancer cells. It can be done several ways: Fine needle aspiration: A thin needle is used to remove fluid from a breast lump. 

  • Core Biopsy - Also called needle biopsy, a thick needle is used to remove a sample of breast tissue. 

  • Surgical Biopsy - A surgeon removes a sample of tissue from the lump or lump area. 

Once the results from the test or procedure are returned you will be able to make thoughtful decisions. Please see Newly Diagnosed  for information on being patient active, treatment decisions, partnering with your healthcare team and finding support. 

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is difficult. Please see Caregivers and/or Online Support for more information on how the Cancer Support Community can offer support.

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