The size of the breast cancer tumor and how far it has spread are the best indicators for survival. Therefore, early detection is important. Because breast tumors are often painless, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends the following for women without symptoms:
If breast cancer does cause symptoms, they can include:
There are several tests physicians can use to further the diagnostic process and look for breast cancer. These include diagnostic mammogram, MRI, breast ultrasound or ductogram, which is a special X-ray that is helpful in determining the cause of nipple discharge.
As with other cancers, the only way to know for sure is with a biopsy—a procedure in which a sample of the tumor is sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope. With a needle biopsy, a needle is used to remove a small amount of fluid and tissue from the suspect area.
Lymph nodes are olive-shaped glands that can carry cancer from one part of the body to another. The first node to which cancer spreads is called the “sentinel node.” In breast cancer, the sentinel node is usually one that is under the arm. Removing the sentinel node during a biopsy can provide physicians with better information for diagnosing and treatment planning, and can potentially reduce the amount of surgery needed.