Proper medical testing is critical to an accurate diagnosis, particularly when it comes to breast cancer. And an accurate diagnosis is in turn of immense importance for how to proceed in terms of treatment.
To help you better understand the process for testing for and identifying breast cancer as well as what goes into the overall diagnosis process, we’ve compiled this article explaining how breast cancers tests and diagnoses typically go.
To start off with, every patient is assessed for the various risk factors that can contribute to breast cancer. Your personal doctor will go over your medical history with you in order to assess these risk factors; you will likely discuss your family’s medical history (if any other relatives have ever been diagnosed with cancer, for example) as well as your own personal history (do you have dense breast tissue, have you had any abnormalities with your menstruation or menopause, do you exercise enough, how much alcohol are you drinking, have you been exposed to any seriously harmful carcinogens, and so forth).
One an adequate profile of your risk factors has been compiled, your physician will then move on to a physical exam. The primary portion of the physical exam will consist of the breast examination; this breast exam will involve your physician inspecting your breast and then palpating it to feel for any lumps. Your doctor may perform this exam with you in different positions (standing, sitting, and lying down, and also with your arms held at different angles) in order to better evaluate the health of your breaths (some issues are not immediately apparent from one perspective, so physicians want to get as much information as possible before proceeding).
In general, during a physical breast exam there are a few important aspects of your breasts that your doctor will look for. They will assess the symmetry of your breasts, the condition of the skin on and around your breasts, whether there is any dimpling or puckering in your breast tissue, and so on. And in addition to this visual inspection, they will also palpate your breasts to feel for any lumps or bumps that should not be present. Your doctor will likely also palpate the nearby lymph nodes as well to assess their health.
Another key part of the diagnosing process is a mammogram. Essentially, a mammogram is an x-ray test designed specifically for assessing breast tissue. If something is found as a result of your mammogram, it will need to be classified as either a benign (not overtly harmful) finding or a malignant (harmful and aggressive) finding. Other imaging tests for detecting breast cancer, sch as ultrasound, can also be used.
The second to last part of the diagnosing process involves getting a biopsy (tissue sample). A biopsy is the only way to absolutely certain whether or not you have breast cancer; it can also help to determine other useful information about a tumor as well, potentially even its molecular make-up.
Finally, the last part of the testing and diagnosis process is determining what stage your cancer is at; this final step is crucial because it helps to determine what course of treatment to take.