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Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

Once a lump is felt, there is a need for further examination. A doctor cannot always tell whether the lump is malignant or benign through physical examination. Many tests are available to diagnose a breast lump. Usually, mammography is suggested first.


Mammography (x-ray of the breasts)

The breast is pressed between two plates and an x-ray is taken. Due to pressure on the breast, during the procedure, you may feel some pain. These X-rays will give more information about the nature of the breast lump.


Sound waves are used to know whether the lump is filled with fluid or not. Generally sonography is done along with mammography.

Based on results of these tests, doctor will determine whether additional test and treatment are required or not. If investigation or treatment are not indicated, doctor will want to check you regularly to detect changes in the lump. If needed, further tests are recommended. Few such tests are described here.

Aspiration Cytology

During this test, the doctor uses a syringe and a needle and withdraws some fluid from the lump. Majority of fluid can be removed from the fluid filled lump, which reduces in size or it disappears. If the lump is hard, a needle is inserted repeatedly in different directions and some fluid is aspirated. Slides are prepared and sent to the laboratory for testing.

Aspiration Cytology has an accuracy rate of 80% to 95%. Occasionally accurate diagnosis may not be possible through this test. It is important to consult a knowledgeable and experienced pathologist for this purpose. This test is painless and simple to perform.

Needle Biopsy

During this test, the doctor uses a special needle and obtains a sample of tissue from the lump. This sample is sent to the laboratory for testing to know whether the lump is benign or malignant.

Needle Biopsy has an accuracy rate of 95%-98%. At times, accurate diagnosis may not be possible due to an inadequate or improper sample. The slides and wax blocks can used to consult another pathologist for a second opinion.


A surgeon removes the entire lump or a large piece of lump and sends it to a laboratory for testing. Surgery is done under general anesthesia (making the person unconscious) or local anesthesia (blocking the pain sensation of local area). This being operative procedure the incision will need suturing.

This test provides accurate diagnosis. Slides and wax blocks of the specimen can be preserved for a long time. These slides and wax blocks can easily be sent to pathologist to obtain second opinion and additional tests.

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