Physical Exam: By examining the breast and nearby underarm tissue for lumps, skin changes, nipple discharge, or lymph nodes, a doctor can find any abnormalities in the breast. Characteristics of breast lumps, such as size, shape, texture, are usually noted.
Mammogram: A mammography machine compresses each breast and takes low-dose X-rays. Mammograms are the most commonly used test for early detection, or screening, for breast cancer.
Digital mammogram: A mammogram that stores the electronic images of each breast in a digital, computer-readable format. This is different than a standard film mammogram, where the images are created directly on film.
Diagnostic mammogram: Additional mammogram views beyond those done in a routine mammogram may sometimes be necessary to evaluate an abnormal mammogram or a breast abnormality.
Breast ultrasound: A device placed on the skin bounces high-frequency sound waves through breast tissue. The signals are converted into pictures on a video screen, allowing health care providers to see structures inside the body. Breast ultrasound can often determine whether a lump is made of fluid (cyst) or solid material.
Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scan): An MRI scanner uses a high-powered magnet and a computer to create detailed images of the breast and surrounding structures. Breast MRIs can add additional information to mammograms and are recommended only in specific cases.
Breast biopsy: A small sample of tissue is taken from an abnormal-appearing area of the breast that is seen on physical exam, mammogram, or other imaging study and examined for cancer cells. A biopsy may be done with a needle or with minor surgery.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) breast biopsy: A doctor inserts a thin needle into an abnormal-appearing area of the breast and draws out (aspirates) fluid and breast tissue. This is the simplest type of biopsy and is mostly used for lumps that can be easily felt in the breast.
Core needle breast biopsy: A larger, hollow needle is inserted into a breast mass, and a tube-shaped piece of breast tissue (core) is drawn out. A core biopsy provides more breast tissue for evaluation than an FNA biopsy.
Stereotactic breast biopsy: A breast biopsy in which computerized pictures help the health care provider reach the exact location of the abnormal breast tissue to remove a sample.
Surgical biopsy: Surgery may be recommended to take out part or all of a breast lump to check for cancer.
Sentinel node biopsy: A type of biopsy in which the health care provider locates and removes the lymph node(s) that the primary tumor is most likely to spread. This type of biopsy helps determine the likelihood that a cancer has spread.
Ductogram (galactogram): A thin plastic tube is inserted into a duct in the nipple, and contrast dye is injected into the breast to help the health care provider view the breast ducts. A ductogram can help identify the cause of bloody nipple discharge.
Nipple smear (nipple discharge exam): A sample of bloody or abnormal fluid leaked from the nipple is examined under the microscope to see if any cancer cells are present.
Ductal lavage: Sterile water is injected into the nipple ducts, then collected and examined for cancer cells. This experimental test is only used in women known to be at high risk for breast cancer.