How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?

While some women find a lump in their breast, the most common way to detect breast cancer is through a mammogram. If an abnormal area is found during a routine mammogram, a diagnostic mammogram will focus on the area of concern along with some other tests that will determine if cancer is present. 



Breast ultrasounds provide evidence about whether a lump is a solid mass, a cyst filled with fluid, or a mixture of both. Unlike x-rays or CT scans that use radiation, ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the breasts. While cysts usually aren’t cancerous, solid lumps might be.



Typically, breast MRIs are best for women with dense breasts as well as women who are considered high-risk. An MRI uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer to take detailed pictures of breast tissue. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. 


Breast Biopsy

If the physician is still concerned with the abnormality, you will need to have a breast biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of tissue to look for cancer cells and the only way to tell for sure if cancer is present.

Breast Cancer Biopsy


Types of Breast Cancer Biopsies

Your doctor may refer you to a surgeon or breast disease specialist for a biopsy. The surgeon will remove fluid or tissue from your breast in one of several ways:

  • Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: Your doctor uses a thin needle to remove cells or fluid from a breast lump.
  • Core biopsy: Your doctor uses a wide needle to remove a sample of breast tissue.
  • Skin biopsy: If there are skin changes on your breast, your doctor may take a small sample of skin.
  • Surgical biopsy: Your surgeon removes a sample of tissue.
    • An incisional biopsy takes a part of the lump or abnormal area.
    • An excisional biopsy takes the entire lump or abnormal area.

A pathologist will check the tissue or fluid removed from your breast for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the pathologist can tell what type of breast cancer it is. The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which begins in the cells that line the breast ducts. Lobular carcinoma is another common type; it begins in the lobules of the breast. 

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Breast Cancer Education Center

Want to learn more about breast cancer? Our breast cancer education center includes articles, videos, and patient stories. 

Testing for Hormones, HER2, and Genetic Mutations

Specific tests are performed on the tissue removed during the biopsy. It may take several weeks to get the test results, which we realize will be a stressful time for you. While it can be hard to wait patiently, be assured that going over these test results in depth will help your doctor decide which cancer treatments are likely to work best for you.

Learn more about the types of breast cancer and hormone status.

Hormone Receptors

Some breast tumors have receptors for estrogen or progesterone that fuel the cancer's development. The path forward for estrogen-positive or progesterone-positive breast cancer is specific to blocking these hormones to slow the growth of the cancer. 

HER2 Neu Receptors

This test shows whether the breast tissue has too much HER2/neu protein present. If it does, then a targeted therapy may be a treatment option to block that protein from producing too much, slowing the growth of the cancer. 

Genetic Testing

Testing may be performed to determine if there are specific genes that have mutated to cause the breast cancer, which can be treated with specific targeted therapies. You may also qualify for testing to determine if you have an inherited genetic mutation.

You Have Breast Cancer. Now What?

After receiving a breast cancer diagnosis you'll have a lot of appointments and decisions to make with your breast cancer specialist. We've put together some information that is helpful for those first days and weeks in your journey.

There will be a lot of information to process in a short period of time while also managing your mental and emotional health. It’s important that you know you’re not alone in your diagnosis — or your emotions. 

At Rocky Mountain Breast Specialists, you will find valuable sources of support as you cope and go through treatment. We have breast cancer specialists across the state of Colorado, including Colorado Springs, Denver, and the Boulder areas. Once the initial shock has worn off, you can count on us to help you find the strength to take control of the situation so you can successfully manage your life during, and after, your cancer journey.


Free Guide for Breast Cancer Patients

Get helpful tips from the RMBS team on what to expect and how to prepare your mind and body for breast cancer treatment. Tips for your family too! 

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