How the Professionals Diagnose Breast Cancer

How the Professionals Diagnose Breast Cancer

What to look for

Specific things to look for when conducting a self examination include:

• A change in the color, shape or texture of the nipple,
• Dimpling of the skin around the breast tissue,
• New lumps, either just below the skin or deep within the breast tissue,
• Lumps within the armpit area.

These signs need to be reported to your doctor as soon as possible so that a definite diagnosis can be made.

The diagnosis process

The first meeting you have with your doctor will generally consist of a breast examination. Your doctor will feel for lumps in both breasts and the armpit areas so that they can either rule in or rule out breast cancer. If a lump or any other breast abnormality is detected then you will be referred to hospital for either a mammogram or an ultrasound scan (depending on where you live and the type of health insurance you have).

In the case of a lump being present, a small section of the tissue will be removed (aspirated) using a fine needle and syringe. The cells that are taken from the breast lump can then be examined by specialist to determine whether they are cancerous or not.

Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer

A positive diagnosis of breast cancer doesn’t mean that the medical tests stop. Once breast cancer is confirmed, further tests are necessary to determine whether the cancerous cells are sensitive to the hormone estrogen and if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Finding out whether the cancer is sensitive to estrogen helps to answer the question of which treatment will be most effective. If the cells are estrogen sensitive then treatment may simply consist of estrogen-blocking drugs. If not then surgery will often be required.

The additional medical tests will also determine whether the cancerous cells have spread to other areas of the body. So for example, blood tests will show how well the liver is functioning, and thus whether the cancer has spread to the liver. Chest x-rays are used to look for evidence of lung cancer and a bone density scan may be carried out if there are signs that the bones have been invaded.

Obviously the extent to which these additional tests are carried out depends on the results of the primary tests. Hopefully the biopsy of the breast lump will show that the cancer is still confined to the tissues of the breast and so only a few simple blood tests will be required.

In summary

There are 3 main stages in the diagnosis of breast cancer:

1. Self examination that reveals some form of abnormality within the tissues of the breast,
2. Mammogram or ultrasound scan followed by a biopsy of any lumps that are present,
3. Further tests that will reveal the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to other areas of the body.

How the Professionals Diagnose Breast Cancer

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