Breast CancerBreast Cancer A to Z
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Diagnosing Breast Cancer


Early diagnosis is important in breast cancer treatment and survival.

The odds of surviving are better the earlier the cancer is found and treated.

Staging of breast cancer refers to the size of the tumor and whether the tumor has moved outside of the breast. Lower stages mean a smaller tumor that has infected less other tissue. These statistics from the American Cancer Society show how finding a breast cancer tumor at an early stage can improve your chances of survival.

Stage 0
Stage I
Stage IIA
Stage IIB
Stage IIIA
Stage IIIB
Stage IV

Remember that statistics are averages and not a prediction of your future. Many people who are diagnosed with breast cancer at Stage IV will live for decades and pass on from some other cause. However, the earlier a cancer is detected, the better the odds are to wind up in the survivors group.

Learn more about Breast Cancer STAGING

Tools For Diagnosis

  • A MAMMOGRAM is a type of x-ray that creates an image of the breast on film or paper. It can help determine whether a lump is benign or cancerous. In fact, it can sometimes detect cancer in the breast before a lump can be felt. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests that beginning at age 40, all women should have a mammogram every 1 to 2 years. When a woman reaches 50, she should have a mammogram each year. A doctor may also recommend a mammogram if any sign or symptom of breast cancer is found, regardless of age.

Several other methods also are being studied. None is now reliable enough to be used alone, but they may be helpful when combined with approved methods.

Learn more about MAMMOGRAMS

  • DUCTAL LAVAGE is a minimally invasive method of searching for abnormal cells inside the milk ducts, where most breast cancer begins. If abnormal cells are found, it provides physiological evidence of significantly increased breast cancer risk. Determining whether abnormal (or "atypical") cells are present can help high-risk women and physicians weigh the risks and benefits of options such as closer surveillance and risk reduction drug therapy.

Learn more about DUCTAL LAVAGE

  • DIAPHANOGRAPHY, or TRANSILLUMINATION, shines a light through the breast to show its inner features. This technique is based on the principle that different types of tissues (i.e., cancerous and normal tissues) will manifest different patterns of light scatter and absorption; therefore, the transmission of light through the breast will vary in identifiable ways.


  • THERMOGRAPHY or DIGITAL INFRARED IMAGING measures the heat patterns in the breast to produce an image. This procedure was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1982 as a supplement to mammography in helping to detect breast cancer.


  • ULTRASOUND uses high-frequency sound waves forming a pattern of echoes that are electronically translated into a visual image to get an image of the breast. The sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off tissues and the echoes are converted into a picture (sonogram). Ultrasonography can help determine if a lump is a cyst or a solid mass. It is usually used along with palpation and mammography.

also see -> Breast Cancer Diagnostic Tools





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