Breast Cancer Diagnosis

An accurate breast cancer diagnosis is the first step toward the most effective treatment.

If your doctor detects a suspicious change in your breast during an examination or during a mammogram, he or she will use one or more methods to determine if the disease is present.

First, additional imaging, such as an ultrasound or breast MRI may be required. UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center offers the latest in these technologies.

The next step to confirm a diagnosis is typically a biopsy. Using a needle, we will remove a sample of the suspicious tissue and examine it under a microscope to determine whether it’s cancerous.

A special type of pathologist makes this determination. At UT Southwestern, these team members are subspecialized, uniquely trained breast pathologists who focus solely on breast cancer. Their whole day is filled with diagnosing and staging breast cancer, meaning they have more experience and expertise than a general pathologist who diagnoses all types of cancer. In North Texas, this degree of subspecialty is unique to UT Southwestern.

Methods of Diagnosis

Our team uses several advanced types of biopsies to diagnose breast cancer, depending on the situation. These include:

  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy
  • Core needle biopsy
  • Vacuum-assisted needle biopsy
  • Image-guided biopsy
  • Surgical (open) biopsy
  • Lymph node biopsy

After examining the cancerous tissue, the breast pathologist produces a report. A pathology report may include information about the size of the tumor, the growth of the tumor into other tissues and organs, the type of cancer cells, the grade of the tumor, and recommendations for special tests to determine how best to treat the cancer.

Staging Breast Cancer

Evaluating a cancerous tumor’s microscopic characteristics is important in determining if it’s likely to metastasize (spread) and what treatment or therapy is most appropriate. These characteristics help determine the type (invasive or noninvasive) of breast cancer, the grade (how quickly an invasive cancer is growing), the classification, and the stage.

Tests for determining how far a breast cancer has spread include:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood tests
  • Bone scans
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Not all women will require these tests to determine the stage. In most cases of early-stage breast cancer, the complete staging is determined through pathology results obtained during surgery.

This is when you doctor’s experience and collaboration with members of the breast cancer team matter most. Identifying your exact type of breast cancer and its stage play a significant role in how your cancer will be treated. Your pathologist and oncologists will work closely together to customize a treatment plan for you and to start treatment as soon as possible.

Meet the Team

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a breast cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.