Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Breast Cancer Diagnosis

diagnosis of breast cancer


Breast cancer is a general term for more than five different types of cancer affecting the breasts, in both males and females. The following are some of the more commonly encountered types of breast cancer:

  • Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)-noninvasive, affects the ducts
  • Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC)- capable of metastasis
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma– begins in the lobules but can metastasize

There are numerous other relatively rare forms of breast cancer, but as they all primarily affect the breast, they share similarities with regards to the symptoms manifested. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should consult your doctor so that an accurate diagnosis of the disease can be made. The symptoms are:

  • Lump in the breast or armpits
  • Change in breast size or shape
  • Puckering on breast skin
  • A retracted nipple
  • The discharge of fluids other than milk from the nipple
  • Scaly and inflamed skin on areola, nipple or breast

As with most other cancers, these symptoms appear when the condition has advanced a bit, so scheduling a regular checkup is the best way to detect the disease in its early stages, as it may or may not present these symptoms.

The following diagnostic procedures can be undertaken to determine the presence of breast cancer.




A Mammography

Mammograms are used for screening as well as diagnosis of breast cancer. For screening purposes, mammograms are recommended for women between 50-74 years of age. Mammograms use x-rays to image the breast, or sections of it. Two plates are used to confine and image the breast, giving craniocaudal (top-bottom) and mediolateral oblique (sideways) views. Spot compressions are used to magnify areas of interest.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI uses radio waves, combined with the contrast medium, gadolinium, to image the breasts, or even the whole body when metastasis is suspected. MRI scans can take an hour, and require the patient to remain still within the confines of the machine, something that cause extreme discomfort. MRIs need to be modified to be able to take images of the breast. MRIs are very costly.


This diagnostic technique uses high-frequency sound waves emitted by a microphone-like transducer to create an image. Ultrasound is often used after a mammogram to determine the nature of any abnormality found by the mammogram. It can be used to distinguish a cyst from a solid mass, and sometimes benign and malignant tumors. Ultrasounds are painless and less expensive than other techniques.


A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a tissue sample is excised from the area of interest and lab tests conducted to determine whether they are cancerous or not. Biopsies are invasive procedures, and often require local anesthesia.  The aforementioned imaging techniques are often used in combination with biopsies for precise targeting.  There are several types of biopsies you can choose, and these are:

  • Fine needle aspiration– uses a thin needle to draw a sample from the mass; often done without anesthesia.
  • Core needle biopsy– uses a slightly larger needle to extract samples from the needle.
  • Vacuum-assisted biopsy– uses a vacuum powered probe to excise and draw samples from the mass
  • Surgical biopsy– can be either incisional, removing only part of the mass, or excisional, removing the whole mass

A biopsy offers greater certainty over the validity of the results, as imaging techniques are known to present false-positive results, specially a mammography.

In the event of metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, biochemical tests such as alanine aminotransferase tests can be used to determine which organs have been affected by the metastasis.