Breast Cancer Diagnosis
If you’ve had an abnormal finding on a screening mammogram or other breast screening test or felt a lump in your breast, you’ll have follow-up tests. These tests may rule out breast cancer. If not, you’ll have a breast biopsy. A biopsy is the only test that can diagnose breast cancer. Most of the time, findings from a biopsy don’t turn out to be breast cancer.
If your biopsy shows breast cancer, learning about your breast cancer diagnosis will help you be an informed patient. There are many different types of breast cancer and your treatment will depend on your diagnosis. So, it’s important to understand your diagnosis and the factors that affect your prognosis and treatment, including breast cancer stage. This will help you make treatment decisions in partnership with your doctor.
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What is a Biopsy?
A biopsy removes a sample of cells or tissue from the suspicious area of your breast. The sample is studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
Types of biopsies
There are two main types of biopsies: needle and surgical. A core needle biopsy is the standard and preferred way to diagnose breast cancer and involves removing samples of breast tissue from the suspicious area using a needle. In rare cases, a surgical biopsy may be needed to make a breast cancer diagnosis.
The tissue samples are sent to a pathologist to examine under a microscope. The pathologist will determine whether the tissue contains cancer. The results will be sent to your doctor or oncologist in a pathology report.
Waiting for results
Waiting for your biopsy results in the pathology report can be hard. Be sure to ask your doctor when you can expect the results. If the results show no cancer, you should talk with your doctor about follow-up breast care and screening. If breast cancer is found, the next step is understanding your diagnosis.
Factors Affecting Prognosis
If a biopsy finds breast cancer, it’s important to understand the factors related to your diagnosis. These factors help you and your health care provider make treatment decisions. Tests are done on the tumor and any lymph nodes removed during surgery. The results of these tests help determine your prognosis (or course of disease) and guide your treatment. Factors that affect prognosis and treatment are considered together, rather than alone. They include:
- Lymph node status
- Tumor size
- Presence or absence of metastases
- Tumor grade
- Types of tumors
- Hormone receptor status (estrogen and progesterone receptor status)
- HER2 status
- Oncotype DX
Breast cancer stages
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is stage 0, or non-invasive breast cancer and has the best prognosis. There are four main stages of invasive breast cancer: stages 1-4. The lower the breast cancer stage, the better the prognosis tends to be. The most advanced stage (stage 4) is known as metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
New tools under study
There are new tools under study that may one day be used in breast cancer diagnosis to help you and your doctor plan your treatment.
Susan G. Komen® Support Resources
A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. Knowing which questions to ask can help you understand your diagnosis and advocate for yourself as you develop your treatment plan with your doctor.
You may feel stress, shock, fear, sadness, anger and grief after a breast cancer diagnosis. These feelings are normal. Some people find joining a support group or talking to a counselor or therapist helpful in coping with these feelings.
If you or a loved one needs more information about breast cancer diagnosis, contact the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or firstname.lastname@example.org. All calls are answered by a trained specialist or oncology social worker, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET. Se habla español.
Komen patient navigators can help guide you through the health care system as you go through a breast cancer diagnosis. They can help to remove barriers to high-quality breast care. For example, they can help you with insurance, local resources, communication with health care providers and more. Call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) or email email@example.com to learn more about our Patient Navigator program, including eligibility.
Komen Facebook groups provide a place where those with a connection to breast cancer can share their experiences and build strong relationships with each other. You can request to join the Komen Breast Cancer Facebook group or Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Facebook group.
Our fact sheets, booklets and other educational materials offer additional information about a breast cancer diagnosis.