Types of Exams to Detect Breast Cancer
There are a number of types of exams to determine if cancer is present. Below is a list and brief description of the most common types of exams.
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Clinical Breast Exam
During a clinical breast exam, your doctor checks your breasts. Your doctor is looking for signs such as differences in size or shape between your breasts, the skin of your breasts is checked for abnormal signs, your nipples are checked for fluid, lymph nodes near the breast are checked to see if they are enlarged and you will also be checked for lumps. If a lump is found, it will be checked for size, shape, and texture.
Mammograms, which are pictures of the breast tissue, can usually detect a breast lump before it can be felt. Along with lumps, mammograms can also show a cluster of calcium, called micro-calcifications. These can be from cancerous or precancerous cells, or other conditions. Further tests may be needed to determine if abnormal cells are present.
Additional Imaging Tests
Sometimes your doctor may order additional imaging tests. This occurs usually if an abnormal area is found during initial testing. These tests may include an Ultrasound or MRI. An ultrasound device sends out sound waves and a computer uses the sound waves to create a picture that will show more information about the lump. A MRI uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer, which creates detailed pictures of breast tissue, which will illustrate a variation between normal and diseased tissue.
A biopsy is the final test to determine if you have cancer. This is the removal of tissue to look for cancer cells. There are several types of biopsies, ranging from fine-needle to surgical. Depending on where the fluid or tissue is, your doctor will select which biopsy option will work best in your case.
Although a breast self-exam is not recommended as a screening tool for breast cancer, knowing how your breasts normally look and feel can help you detect changes in your breasts. The Susan G. Komen Foundation lists the following changes in your breasts as possible warning signs for breast cancer:
- Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
- Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
- Change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling or puckering of the skin
- Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
- Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
- Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
- New pain in one spot that doesn’t go away
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