A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast. While screening mammograms are routinely administered to detect breast cancer in women who have no apparent symptoms, diagnostic mammograms are used after suspicious results on a screening mammogram or after some signs of breast cancer alert the physician to check the tissue.
When a suspicious site is detected in your breast through a breast self-exam or on a screening mammogram, your doctor may request an ultrasound of the breast tissue. A breast ultrasound is a scan that uses penetrating sound waves that do not affect or damage the tissue and cannot be heard by humans.
During diagnostic examinations, it is helpful to get a variety of images and perspectives. If your initial exams are not conclusive, your doctor may recommend a breast MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to assess the extent of the disease.
A breast biopsy is a test that removes tissue or sometimes fluid from the suspicious area. The removed cells are examined under a microscope and further tested to check for the presence of breast cancer. A biopsy is the only diagnostic procedure that can definitely determine if the suspicious area is cancerous.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, your doctor may order additional lab tests to assist with prognosis. The two most common lab tests are the hormone receptor test and the HER2/neu test. Results from these tests can provide insight into which cancer treatment options may be most effective for you.
Waiting for results
Waiting for the results of biopsy testing, scans, or lab tests can understandably weigh heavily on your mind. Some people cope by educating themselves and trying to map out their possible options; others reduce stress by distracting themselves with whatever feels fun; still others find the waiting time provides the opportunity to assess their priorities or deepen meaningful relationships.