breast cancer awareness

Understanding the Diagnosis and Testing for Breast Cancer

October is breast cancer awareness month. We want to take this time to make sure you are fully informed about getting a diagnosis and what the different testing methods for breast cancer may look like.

What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is cancer that starts in the tissues of the breast. There are two main types of breast cancer:

  • Ductal carcinoma starts in the tubes (ducts) that carry milk from the breast to the nipple. Most breast cancers are of this type.
  • Lobular carcinoma starts in the parts of the breast, called lobules, which produce milk.

In rare cases, breast cancer can start in other areas of the breast.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have breast cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to make sure. Diagnosing breast cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. They will ask about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of the disease. Your provider will also give you a physical exam, including an exam of your breasts. 

What tests might I need?

You may have one or more of these tests:   

  • Mammogram
  • Ultrasound
  • Breast MRI
  • Biopsy
  • Nipple discharge exam

Imaging tests 

  • Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. It’s done to look for and learn more about unusual breast changes. These may include a lump, pain, nipple thickening or discharge, or a change in breast size or shape. A screening mammogram is done routinely to check for changes. A diagnostic mammogram might be done if a change is seen on a screening mammogram. It takes more pictures to look more closely at the changes that were seen on the screening mammogram. 
  • Ultrasound. This test uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of body tissues on a computer screen. This exam is often used along with a mammogram. 
  • Breast MRI.  This test uses large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of tissues inside the breast. 


A biopsy removes tissue or cells from the breast so they can be tested in a lab. A biopsy is the only way to know if a breast change is cancer.   

A breast biopsy may be done with local or general anesthesia. Local anesthesia means the medicine is used to numb the part of the breast where the biopsy will be done. General anesthesia uses medicines to put you into a deep sleep and not feel pain while the biopsy is done. 

There are many types of breast biopsy. The type of biopsy you need will depend on where the lump or change is inside your breast and how big it is. 

Nipple discharge exam

If you have fluid coming out of your nipple, the provider might collect it and send it to a lab to look for cancer cells. Most nipple secretions are not cancer. An injury, infection, or non-cancer (benign) tumor may cause discharge. 

EOCC and NEOK want you to know that we are always here for you!