Your doctor will discuss your medical history, including any family history of breast cancer. Your breasts will be examined for characteristic symptoms, including lumps or thickening, nipple discharge or inversion, redness or changes in the skin or contour of the breast. If breast cancer is suspected, the following tests will be performed:



A mammogram is an x-ray of the breast that can often find tumours that are too small for you or your doctor to feel. The accuracy of a mammogram to detect cancer will depend on such factors as the size of the tumour, your age, breast density, and the skill of the radiologist. Although mammograms are the most sensitive test currently used to evaluate the breast, they will miss 10-15% of breast cancers. Other x-rays, including MRIs, are starting to be studied to see if they are more sensitive than mammograms.


During ultrasonography, sound waves (called ultrasound) are bounced off tissues and the echoes are converted into a sonogram, or a picture. Ultrasound is used to evaluate lumps that have been identified via breast self-examination, clinical breast examination, or mammography. They help to see if a mass is solid or had liquid in it. Solid masses are generally more concerning than cystic or liquid-filled masses.


Depending on the outcome of these tests, your doctor may simply continue to monitor subsequent breast changes, or may decide to do further testing. In some cases, your doctor may decide to remove a sample of tissue to be examined in the lab. This sample may be taken by one of the following methods:

Fine needle aspiration – A thin needle is used to remove fluid and/or cells from a breast lump. If the fluid is clear, it may not need to be checked by a lab.

Large needle (or core) biopsy – Tissue is removed with a large-bore needle from an area that looks suspicious on a mammogram, but cannot be felt.

Surgical biopsy – All or part of a breast lump is removed for lab examination. An incisional biopsy removes a small portion of a large lump, while an excisional biopsy removes the entire lump (usually small.)

Staging - If cancer is found, your prognosis and treatment depend on the location, size, and stage of the cancer and your general health.
Staging is a careful attempt to determine whether the cancer has spread and, if it has, what body parts are affected.


Stage 0 – In situ (within the site of origin) – The cancer remains in the breast and has not spread (See description of LCIS and DCIS above) .

Stage I – Cancer has spread beyond the lobe or duct and invaded nearby tissue. At this stage, the tumor is no larger than 2 centimeters in size, and has not spread beyond the breast.

Stage II – Stage II means one of the following: 1) the tumor in the breast is less than 2 centimeters in size and the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes under the arm or 2) the tumor is between 2 and 5 centimeters in size (with or without spread to the lymph nodes under the arm)

or 3) the tumor is larger than 5 centimeters but has not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm.

Stage III – The tumor is large (more than 5 centimeters in size) and the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IV – Cancer has spread beyond the breast and lymph nodes to other parts of the body.

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