Diagnosing Breast Cancer
- Guidelines for Early Detection
Mammograms are the most effective and important early detection method available.
According to the American Cancer Society, early screening saves lives. Thousands of lives. Here are the guidelines for early detection:
- Women age 20 and older: clinical breast exam at annual physical
- Women at age 40: initial mammogram
- Women age 50 and older: mammogram every two years and clinical breast exam
- All women: monthly breast self-exam
- Women at high risk for breast cancer: yearly MRI and mammogram
Our focus at Scott & White is to compassionately assist you with your breast cancer diagnosis and effectively provide you with the absolute latest in cancer management options.
We understand the anxiety and fear that come with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Our specialists and subspecialists — including surgical, medical, and radiation oncologists — will meet with you to discuss your options and help to allay your concerns. We also have oncology social workers, patient navigators and ambassadors, and chaplains to offer you guidance and support throughout your treatment.
Because of current advancements in surgery, radiology and drug treatments — and especially because of improvements in early detection — millions of women are surviving breast cancer today.
At Scott & White, we have the most advanced diagnostic equipment available to find your breast tumors early, when cure is most likely. As a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence, our diagnostic radiologists are nationally recognized for providing expert imaging and detection.
We also provide outstanding pathology services. Our board-certified pathologists are skilled at looking at your tissue and being able to identify precisely what type of breast cancer you have. They also look for markers that can help us decide not only about prognosis, but also for markers that predict particular therapies as being effective.
Breast Cancer Diagnostic Services
If your physician suspects you might have breast cancer, he or she may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:
Mammograms are still the most effective and important early detection method available.
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that’s used to detect abnormalities in breast tissue.
Mammography is used in two ways. First, you may have a yearly mammogram. If an abnormality is found, your physician may order a second, more precise mammogram to evaluate the mass more fully.
Mammography at Scott & White is fully digital. We are one of only 8 percent of breast imaging centers in the United States that uses digital mammography.
According to the National Cancer Institute, digital mammography is more accurate than film mammography for the following categories:
- Women under the age of 50
- Women with very dense or extremely dense breasts
- Pre- or perimenopausal women
Digital mammography offers the same benefits as film for men and for women over age 50, those who do not have very dense breasts, and who are no longer menstruating.
Your physician may order a breast ultrasound in addition to a mammogram. Ultrasound technology uses radio waves to identify masses in breast tissue. Ultrasound can detect very small tumors; it’s also helpful in detecting tumors in women with dense breast tissue.
Ultrasound is an alternative for women who can’t tolerate an MRI or who are pregnant and can’t be exposed to the X-rays found in mammography. It’s also a good choice for women who have silicone breast implants.
If an abnormality was found in your breast tissue, your physician may request a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your breast. An MRI provides a highly detailed, precise view of the mass in your breast.
Scott & White employs a state-of-the-art 3T computer-assisted magnet MRI to diagnose breast malignancies. Advantages of using an MRI as a diagnostic tool for diagnosing breast cancer include:
- View both breasts simultaneously
- Produces highly sensitive image
- Effective for dense breasts
- Produces a 3-D view
With a thorough view of your malignancy, your physicians are best able to coordinate your treatment plan.
A computerized tomography (CT) scan, a form of two-dimensional imaging, is often used to determine whether breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as your lymph nodes, lungs, liver, spine or brain.
You will first be injected with a dye before your CT scan. The dye will reveal the presence of any tumors. The CT scanner will take a series of detailed pictures of your breast from different angles. You may receive an injection of contrast dye and have more images made. The dye will highlight the presence of any tumors.
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an effective tool for detecting and staging breast cancer or to determine whether breast cancer has spread to other parts of your body.
Radioactive sugar tracers are first injected into the tumor area. Scanners then record photons emitted by the tracers. A computer reassembles the image into a readable picture to determine the presence of tumors.
A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a tiny sample of breast tissue is removed for evaluation. It’s the best way your physician can definitively confirm a diagnosis of breast cancer. The sample of breast tissue is sent to the laboratory for assessment.
Ultrasound-Guided Breast Biopsy
In some cases, diagnosis of breast tumors can be made using image-guided needle biopsy. Your radiation oncologist will insert a needle, directed by ultrasound, into your breast, and the breast lump or part of the lump is removed and examined for abnormalities by a pathologist.
Ultrasound-guided breast biopsy is generally a quicker and less damaging procedure than traditional surgical biopsy. Sometimes the entire malignancy can be removed during the procedure.
Stereotactic Breast Biopsy
With this minimally invasive procedure, a small needle is inserted into the breast lump and breast material is removed and checked for malignancy.
Stereotactic breast biopsy is a highly accurate, quick and effective means of surgically diagnosing malignancy.
Ductal lavage is used for patients at high risk for breast cancer. Fluid is drawn from the cells lining your milk ducts and checked under a microscope for cells that may become cancerous.
Ductal lavage allows your physician to perform a precise biopsy, if necessary, without disturbing surrounding tissues. It’s used to detect breast cancer at its earliest stage.
Nipple ductoscopy is also for patients at high risk for breast cancer. A fiber-optic cable with a telescope is inserted into the nipple, where breast cancer often starts, to check for abnormalities. Your surgeon will remove any suspicious tissue.
With nipple ductoscopy, any tumors or abnormalities can be removed with minimal disruption to surrounding breast tissue. Nipple ductoscopy is an effective tool in detecting breast cancer in its earliest stage.
Hereditary Breast Cancer Genetics Services
If you have a family member with breast cancer or were diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50, your physician may recommend that you have genetic testing done to determine whether you carry one of the gene changes for breast and ovarian cancer.
Genetic testing is available at the Scott & White Cancer Genetics Clinic to help identify individuals and families who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes and are at an increased risk to develop breast and ovarian cancer.