Breast Cancer Diagnosis
An accurate breast cancer diagnosis is the first step toward the most effective treatment.
If our doctors detect a suspicious change in the breast during an examination or on a mammogram, they’ll use one or more methods to determine if the disease is present.
First, additional imaging, such as an ultrasound or breast MRI, might be required. The breast cancer team at UT Southwestern’s 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.
One Focus: Diagnosing Breast Cancer
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
- Core needle biopsy
- Image-guided biopsy
- Surgical (open)
- Lymph node biopsy
After examining the cancerous tissue, the breast pathologist produces a report. A pathology report might include information about the size of the tumor, the type of cancer cells, the grade of the tumor, and tumor markers 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 of breast cancer (invasive or noninvasive), the grade (how quickly an invasive cancer is growing), the classification, and the stage.
Tests for staging a breast cancer include:
- Blood tests
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 our doctors’ experience and collaboration with members of the breast cancer team matter most. Identifying the exact type of breast cancer and its stage determines how the cancer will be treated. Our pathologists and oncologists will work together closely to customize a treatment plan for patients and start treatment as soon as possible.