Breast Cancer: Tests You May Need

Health Monitor Staff
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Biopsies may be used to help diagnose your cancer, or later on if a test turns up something during a post-treatment follow-up. During the procedure, a surgeon removes a small amount of tissue, which will then be examined under a microscope to determine the type of cells it contains and if they are cancerous. There are different types of biopsies, which include:

Fine needle aspiration biopsy: A thin, hollow needle attached to a syringe that’s inserted to collect cells from a small area

Core needle biopsy: A slightly larger, hollow needle that collects a cylinder of tissue. This type is chosen over the fine needle version if the doctor requires more tissue to analyze.

Surgical biopsy: An incision in the skin is made to remove some or all of the suspicious tissue. Surgical biopsies often occur only after a needle biopsy shows evidence of cancer. There are two types:

  • Incisional: When just a small piece of the suspicious area is removed.  
  • Excisional: When the whole suspicious area is removed. It’s often used for lymph nodes or breast lumps.

Vacuum-assisted biopsy: A hollow needle that allows a tissue sample to be extracted via suction. This type is chosen if the doctor requires multiple or larger samples from the same site, as it avoids having to insert the needle multiple times.

Imaging tests
Imaging tests help determine whether cancer has spread to other areas in the body and to evaluate the size and location of a tumor. They are almost always used in conjunction with biopsies and/or blood tests when diagnosing. There are different types of imaging tests, which include:

X-ray: A device that uses radiation to take images of the inside of your body. X-rays specifically for the breast are called mammograms.  

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone scan: An X-ray that helps doctors see inside your bones to determine their strength and locate any possible tumors. These may be given throughout cancer treatment to be sure your bones aren’t thinning.

CT or CAT scan: A three-dimensional X-ray machine that gives a cross-sectional view of the inside of the body

Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: A scan that helps locate a tumor using a radioactive tracer. Patients take a small amount of radioactive sugar, which is used by parts of the body that produce the most energy. Because cancer tends to be extremely active, it absorbs more of the substance and the area is easily seen on the scan images. 

MRI: A scan that uses magnetic fields to produce images of the inside of the body

Ultrasound: A scan that uses sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body

May 2013