Get an Accurate Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Yearly breast cancer screenings are the best way to identify cancer early. It is important to be familiar with how your breasts usually look and feel, and to get regular mammograms. This enables you to notice any changes and report them to your doctor. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the better the chances of successful treatment.

Diagnostic Steps

Cancer specialists may use many tests to diagnose breast cancer. They may also conduct tests to see if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm and other areas of the body.

After reviewing a complete medical history, your health professional will likely recommend:

  • A physical examination to check for lumps in the breasts, nearby tissue and lymph nodes.
  • A screening to look for changes in the breast, including masses and unusual calcifications.

In the event a lump or other possible symptom of breast cancer is detected during a physical examination or screening, health care providers usually order:

  • A diagnostic mammogram, or in some cases an MRI, to aid in further identifying the breast condition.
  • Breast ultrasound to evaluate information from the physical exam or mammography.
  • Laboratory tests of any discharge, other than milk, from the nipples.

If the diagnostic mammogram results warrant further investigation, the next step is a breast cancer biopsy to obtain a sample for testing.

Breast Cancer Biopsies

A breast cancer biopsy involves taking a sample of breast tissue to examine it closely.

There are different types of breast cancer biopsies:

  • Fine needle aspiration. A thin needle is guided into the suspicious area, and a small amount of tissue is removed.
  • Core needle biopsy. A large needle is guided into the lump or mass to remove a small cylinder, or core, of tissue.
  • Surgical biopsy. A surgical procedure is used to remove part of the lump or mass.
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy. Used to find out if there is cancer in the lymph nodes of the breast. The sentinel lymph node is the lymph node or group of lymph nodes cancer first reaches, usually under the arms.


After the breast cancer biopsy has been studied, a diagnosis is made.

There are two types of diagnoses:

  • Benign. This diagnosis means the lump or mass is not cancer and therefore is expected to remain self-contained.
  • Malignant. This diagnosis means the lump or mass is cancerous and further evaluation may be needed to create a treatment plan.

Staging Breast Cancer

Once a breast cancer diagnosis has been made, doctors stage or determine the extent of cancer. This helps to identify the best treatment options.

Tests used to stage breast cancer may include:

The appropriate tests are selected based on your cancer specifics and symptoms. In some cases, doctors may not be able to stage cancer until after breast cancer surgery.

Stages of breast cancer include:

  • Stage 0. Cancer is noninvasive or contained in the milk ducts.
  • Stage 1. Cells are invading normal surrounding breast tissue.
  • Stage 2. There is a tumor between 20-50mm and lymph node involvement. Or, a tumor is larger than 50mm with no lymph node involvement.
  • Stage 3. There is a tumor greater than 50mm with lymph node involvement in a larger area.
  • Stage 4. Metastatic breast cancer. Cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

Whatever the diagnosis, you have access to world-class breast doctors at RWJBarnabas Health. Find a breast specialist near you or learn more about breast cancer symptoms.

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best breast cancer specialists call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

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