[ node--page--full.tpl : 'full']
If your doctor or screening service refers you to a breast clinic you will have a series of tests. Commonly, women have up to three tests, known as ‘triple assessment’. This involves a physical examination, breast imaging and a biopsy. Sometimes, women don’t need to have a biopsy.
A doctor or specialist nurse will examine your breasts, armpits and area around your collarbone to look for any abnormalities, including lumps or other changes.
Breast imaging will involve either a mammogram or ultrasound. The best method of imaging will depend on your age and physical characteristics. You may even have both.
This is an X-ray of your breast tissue. You’ll have one or two X-rays of each breast taken in the same way that women attending routine NHS breast screening will have experienced.
If you’re under 35, you’ll probably be scanned using ultrasound as this method provides better images of a younger woman’s breasts – which tend to be denser. Ultrasound scans create a picture of your breast using sound waves. Ultrasound is particularly useful for telling the difference between a solid lump and a cyst and can also be used for predicting the size of a tumour.
The final stage of the triple assessment is a biopsy. This is usually the only way to tell whether a change in your breast is benign (not cancer) or cancerous. With a biopsy, a sample of your breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. The standard method is called ‘core biopsy’ where a small amount of tissue is removed with a needle. This is done under local anaesthetic.
Also common is ‘fine needle aspiration’ (FNA), the easiest and quickest biopsy technique. A sample of cells is taken from the lump using a fine needle and syringe.
Your hospital doctor will recommend the most suitable type of biopsy for you.
Your hospital team
The investigations and any subsequent treatment for breast cancer will involve a team of healthcare professionals – all specialists in their field (often called a breast care team or multidisciplinary team). The team usually consists of:
- A breast surgeon (a surgeon specialising in breast surgery who will probably be your main doctor in the first instance)
- A breast care nurse (a nurse specialising in breast cancer who will be a key contact for you throughout your care)
- A radiologist (a doctor who specialises in imaging the body through X-rays)
- A cancer specialist – oncologist (a doctor specialising in the treatment of cancer)
- A pathologist (a doctor specialising in the diagnosis and classification of diseases by laboratory tests, such as the examination of tissues and cells under a microscope) or cytologist (doctor specialising in diagnosing diseases by studying tissues and cells).
Information last reviewed: 9 November 2012