Diagnosing Breast Cancer

If you're having symptoms of breast cancer, your doctor is likely to ask you questions about these things:

  • Your medical history
  • Your family history of cancer
  • Any exposure to other risk factors, such as high doses of radiation

In addition to asking questions, your doctor may also perform one or more of the following exams.

Clinical breast exam

Feeling your breast can help your doctor figure out the size and texture of any abnormalities. Noncancerous lumps, called benign lumps, often feel different from cancerous ones. First you will remove your clothes from the waist up. Then your doctor will look to see if your breasts have changed in any way, such as in shape or size. As you sit and lie down in different positions, the doctor will feel for any lumps. If your doctor feels a lump, you may need other tests, such as a mammogram or ultrasound.

Mammography

A mammogram is an X-ray of your breast. It can give the doctor important information about a breast lump. Some facilities use digital mammography, which also uses X-rays, but collects data on the computer, instead of on film. If something looks unusual, more mammograms or other tests may be needed.

Ultrasound

An ultrasound uses sound waves to find out whether a lump is solid or filled with fluid (a cyst). This exam may be used along with mammography. During an ultrasound, your doctor or a technician spreads a thin coating of lubricating jelly over the area to be imaged. A hand-held device called a transducer directs the sound waves through your skin toward specific tissues. As the sound waves are reflected back from the breast tissues, the patterns formed by the waves create a two-dimensional image of the breast on a computer. The test doesn't take long and is painless.

Find a Doctor to Schedule a Preventative Screening Appointment

What Comes Next?

If something suspicious has shown up during initial screenings, your doctor may request more exams to see if you have breast cancer. These can include different types of biopsies and tests to evaluate nipple discharge.

Types of Biopsies Used to Detect Breast Cancer

A biopsy involves removing tissue or cells from the breast to evaluate them under a microscope. It is the only way to know if cells are cancer.

A breast biopsy may be done with local or general anesthesia. Local anesthesia uses medicine to numb the area of the breast where a needle will be inserted; general anesthesia uses medicines to put you into a deep sleep while the biopsy is done. There are several types of breast biopsies that oncologists use, which will depend on the location and size of the breast lump or change.

Types of breast biopsy include:

  • Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy: A very thin needle is placed into the lump or other area to remove a small sample of fluid or tissue. A fine needle aspiration biopsy may be used to help find out if a breast change is a cyst (a fluid-filled sac that's usually not cancer) or a solid lump.
  • Core Needle Biopsy: A large needle is guided into a lump or other area to remove small cylinders of tissue (cores). No incision is needed.
  • Surgical Biopsy: Also known as an open biopsy, the surgeon removes part or all of a lump or other area through an incision. There are two types of surgical biopsy: In an incisional biopsy, a small part of the lump is removed; during an excisional biopsy, the entire lump is removed. If the lump is very small and deep and hard to locate, the wire localization method may be used during surgery. That involves placing a wire into the lump under x-ray guidance. The surgeon then follows this wire to help locate the breast lump.
  • Lymph Node Biopsy: If lymph nodes under the armpit are swollen or look enlarged on imaging tests, the doctor will check them for cancer cells. A needle biopsy may be done to take out and check cells from the lymph node.

Special tools and methods may be used to guide the needles and to assist with biopsy procedures. These include:

  • Stereotactic Biopsy: This method finds the exact location of a breast lump or area by using a computer and mammogram results to create a three-dimensional (3D) picture of the breast. A sample of tissue is removed with a needle.
  • Mammotome Breast Biopsy System or ATEC (Automated Tissue Excision and Collection): This is also called vacuum-assisted biopsy. A type of thin, hollow tube is inserted into the breast lump or mass. The breast tissue is gently suctioned into the tube, and a small rotating knife inside the tube removes the tissue.
  • Ultrasound-Guided Biopsy: This method uses a computer and a transducer that sends out ultrasonic sounds waves to create images of the breast lump or mass. The images help to guide the needle biopsy.

Nipple Discharge Exam for Breast Cancer Detection

Fluid may be collected from nipple discharge and then sent to the lab to look for cancer cells. Most nipple secretions are not cancer. An injury, infection or benign (noncancerous) tumor may cause discharge.

Making a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

When your health care provider has the results of your biopsy and other tests, he or she will contact you with the results. Your provider will talk with you about other tests you may need if breast cancer is found, as well as options for treatment and support.

The teams at our cancer treatment centers in New Jersey include medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, radiation therapists, certified oncology nurses, social workers, case managers, nutritionists, pharmacists, and pastoral care staff—all ready to put their skills to work for your total health and wellness.

Patient Stories

  • “The team at Community Medical Center was phenomenal. I have only good things to say about each of the doctors.”

    Sharon
    Read More

Patient Stories

  • Watch Testimonial
Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus
600 River Avenue
Lakewood, NJ 08701
(732) 363-1900
View
Saint Barnabas Medical Center
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-5000
View
Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 222-5200
View
Clara Maass Medical Center
1 Clara Maass Drive
Belleville, NJ 07109
(973) 450-2000
View
Community Medical Center
99 Highway 37 West
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 557-8000
View
Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
201 Lyons Avenue at Osborne Terrace
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7000
View
Children's Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
201 Lyons Avenue at Osborne Terrace
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7000
View
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 235-2465
View
Jersey City Medical Center
355 Grand Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302
(201) 915-2000
View
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at RWJUH
200 Somerset Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-3000
View
RWJ University Hospital Rahway
865 Stone Street
Rahway, NJ 07065
(732) 381-4200
View
RWJ University Hospital Somerset
110 Rehill Avenue
Somerville, NJ 08876
(908) 685-2200
View
The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Lakewood
600 River Ave
Lakewood, NJ 08701
(732) 923-7700
View
RWJ University Hospital Hamilton
1 Hamilton Health Place
Hamilton, NJ 08690
(609) 586-7900
View
RWJ University Hospital New Brunswick
1 Robert Wood Johnson Place
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-3000
View
Center for Breast Health and Disease Management - Livingston
200 South Orange Avenue
Suite 102
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-7020
View
RWJUH Lab Services at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
First Floor
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 937-8588
View
The Unterberg Children's Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 923-7250
View
The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 923-7700
View
Medical Specialty Services at Bayonne
16 East 29th Street
Bayonne, NJ 07002
(973) 926-7280
View
The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Howell
4013 Route 9
Suite 2S
Howell, NJ 07731
(732) 923-7700
View
The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center at Colts Neck
310 Route 34 South
Second Floor
Colts Neck, NJ 07722
(732) 923-7700
View
Cristie Kerr Women's Health Center
377 Jersey Avenue
Ground Floor, Medical Office Building
Jersey City, NJ 07302
(877) 393-5374
View
Center for Breast Health and Disease Management - Westfield
560 Springfield Ave
Westfield, NJ 07090
(973) 322-7020
View
Center for Breast Health and Disease Management - Metuchen
173 Essex Ave
Metuchen, NJ 08840
(732) 494-0415
View
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
125 Paterson Street.
Clinical Academic Building (CAB)
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 235-6200
View
Eric B. Chandler Health Center at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
277 George Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 235-6700
View
Eric B. Chandler Health Center Church St. Annex
123 Church Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 235-2052
View
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group at Monroe
800 Bunn Drive
Suite 303
Princeton, NJ 08540
(609) 655-5178
View
Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Group
18 Centre Drive
Clinical Academic Building (CAB)
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(609) 655-5178
View
Cancer Center at RWJ Hamilton
2575 Klockner Road
Hamilton Township, NJ 08690
(609) 631-6960
View
Monmouth Medical Center Outpatient Infusion Center
100 State Route 36 West
West Long Branch, NJ 07764
(732) 923-6575
View
Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center
200 South Orange Avenue
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-7000
View
The Family Health Center (FHC) at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
166 Lyons Avenue
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7300
View
Community Medical Center Women's Imaging Center - Toms River
368 Lakehurst Rd
1st Floor
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 557-8146
View

Breast Cancer Treatment & Care

offered at these locations in your neighborhood

View All Locations