How A Diagnosis Is Made And What It Means.

Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Read our blog, A Woman’s Role in Her Breast Cancer Care and hear from a patient advocate as she talks about her breast cancer diagnosis, the importance of talking to her doctor and how social support helped her cope.

Breast cancer is often first suspected when a lump or change is found in the breast or when an abnormal area is seen on a mammogram.

Most of the time, these findings don’t turn out to be breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is through follow-up tests.

This section describes how breast cancer is diagnosed and the factors that affect prognosis (chances for survival) and guide treatment.

Follow-up tests after an abnormal finding on a screening test

Sometimes, breast cancer can be ruled out with a follow-up mammogram (diagnostic mammogram), breast ultrasound or breast MRI.

Follow-Up After an Abnormal Finding on a Mammogram

Follow-Up After an Abnormal Finding on a Clinical Breast Exam

Diagnostic Mammogram

Breast Ultrasound

Breast MRI



A biopsy removes cells or tissue from a suspicious area in the breast. The cells or tissue are studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.


Core Needle Biopsy

Fine Needle Aspiration (Fine Needle Biopsy)

Surgical Biopsy

Waiting For Biopsy Results

Assessing Margins After a Surgical Biopsy

Preserving Breast Tissue Samples for Pathology

Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before a Biopsy

Pathology reports

The breast tissue removed during a biopsy is sent to a pathologist. The pathologist studies the tissue and prepares a report of the findings, including the diagnosis.

What is a Pathology Report

Contents of a Pathology Report

Reading Your Pathology Report After Neoadjuvant Therapy

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Your Diagnosis

Factors that affect prognosis and treatment

Learning about the factors that affect prognosis (chances for survival) can help you understand your diagnosis and your treatment options.

Factors That Affect Prognosis and Treatment

Lymph Node Status

Assessing Lymph Nodes

Tumor Size

Tumor Grade

Types of Tumors (how the cancer cells look under a microscope)

Hormone Receptor Status (estrogen and progesterone status)

HER2 Status

Tumor Profiling Score:

     Oncotype DX®


     PAM50 (Prosigna®)

Breast cancer stages and staging

Breast cancer stage describes the extent of the cancer within your body. It’s the most important factor affecting prognosis.

Breast Cancer Stages and Staging

Tumor Size and Staging

Lymph Node Status and Staging

Metastases and Staging

Tests for Metastases in People Newly Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Molecular subtypes of breast cancer

Researchers are studying how molecular subtypes of breast cancer may be useful in planning treatment and developing new therapies.

Molecular Subtypes of Breast Cancer

Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Special forms of breast cancer

Though they are not specific types of tumors, some special forms of breast cancer are described in this section.

Inflammatory Breast Cancer

Paget Disease of the Breast

Metaplastic Breast Cancer

Emerging areas

New tools are under study that may inform breast cancer diagnosis and give information about tumors to help guide treatment.

Emerging Areas in Breast Cancer Diagnosis

  • What did my biopsy show?
  • What kind of breast cancer do I have? What are the hormone receptor status and HER2 status of my tumor? What are the results of other tests?
  • Where in the breast did the cancer start?
  • What is the grade of my tumor? Is the breast cancer fast-growing or slow-growing?
  • What is the stage of my breast cancer? How does it affect my treatment options? How does it affect my chances for survival?
  • Besides the stage of my breast cancer, what other factors affect my treatment options and prognosis?
  • How many lymph nodes were removed? How many had cancer?
  • Will tumor profiling tests, such as Oncotype DX®, PAM50 (Prosigna®) or MammaPrint®, be done on the tumor tissue? If so, how will the results affect my treatment? If not, why not?
  • Was the entire tumor removed? Were the margins close or positive? Do I need more surgery?
  • Do I need tests to see if the cancer has spread to other organs (such as the bones, liver, lungs or brain)?
  • Would you give me a copy of the pathology report and other test results?
  • Who will discuss my treatment options with me? When will I meet with them? How much time can I take to decide what type of treatment to have? How long will it be before treatment begins?
  • What can I do to prepare for my next appointment?
  • What do I need to consider before treatment begins if I would like to have a child after being treated for breast cancer?
  • Will my tumor be saved? Where will it be stored? For how long? How can it be accessed in the future?

Learn more about talking with your doctor.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with breast cancer or feel too overwhelmed to know where to begin to gather information, Susan G. Komen® has a Questions to Ask Your Doctor When Breast Cancer is Diagnosed resource that might help.

You may want to print this resource and take it with you to your next doctor appointment. There’s plenty of space to write down the answers to these questions, which you can refer to later.

There are other Questions to Ask Your Doctor resources on many different breast cancer topics you may wish to download.


Susan G. Komen® Support Resources

  • If you or a loved one needs more information about breast health or breast cancer, call the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636). All calls are answered by a trained specialist or oncology social worker in English and Spanish, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. ET. You can also email the helpline at
  • We offer an online support community through our closed Facebook Group – Komen Breast Cancer group. The Facebook group provides a place where those with a connection to breast cancer can discuss each other’s experiences and build strong relationships in order to provide support to each other. Visit Facebook and search for “Komen Breast Cancer group” to request to join the closed group.
  • Our fact sheets, booklets and other education materials offer additional information.

Updated 03/26/21