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What Tests Help My Doctor Find Breast Cancer?

Your doctor uses mammography to screen you for breast cancer. The mammography is the name of the test. A mammogram is the picture that results. A mammogram is a special kind of breast X-ray that will usually find signs of cancer before symptoms show up.

The benefits and limitations of mammography vary based on factors like age and personal risk. The American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older. Women should talk with their doctors about their personal risk factors before making a decision about when to start getting mammograms or how often they should get them.

If you have breast-cancer-like symptoms, such as a lump in your breast, your doctor may do a mammography to find out why. Your doctor is also likely to ask you some questions and run some tests. You'll probably talk about these issues.

  • Your medical history

  • Your family history of cancer

  • Other factors that may make you more likely to get cancer, such as your age, lifestyle, and diet

Your doctor may also do a physical exam. This will include feeling your breast to learn more about the lump and scheduling certain tests.

One test you may have is an ultrasound. An ultrasound uses sound waves to tell whether a lump is solid or filled with fluid.

Based on the results of these tests, your doctor decides whether to take a biopsy to look for cancer.

What to Know About Biopsies to Check for Breast Cancer

Having a biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have cancer. To take a biopsy, your doctor removes fluid or a small bit of the tumor or suspicious area. Your doctor has several options for how to remove the cells needed to check for cancer. These cells are checked under a microscope. It usually takes a few days to get the results of your biopsy. When the results come back, your doctor will know if you have breast cancer. The biopsy also shows what type of breast cancer it is.

Doctors, like all people, have their own preferences and styles for how to communicate. Your doctor may tell you the results of your biopsy over the phone. Or your doctor may wait to tell you at your next appointment. If there is a way you would like to be told about the results of your tests in the future, let your doctor know.

© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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