Breast Cancer Diagnosis

If you have a condition or symptom with your breast and don’t yet know the cause, we may order tests to gather more information. Common tests include biopsy and state-of-the-art imaging. Once your tests are complete, we will discuss the results with you, confirm your diagnosis, and decide on next steps.

You may have one or more of these tests to help us confirm your diagnosis:


During a biopsy, we remove a small tissue sample from your breast for testing. There are two primary types of biopsies you might experience—minimally invasive breast biopsy or surgical biopsy:

Minimally invasive breast biopsy

A minimally invasive breast biopsy uses a special needle to sample an abnormal area in your breast. We usually perform this procedure in our radiology department with image guidance—called an image-guided needle biopsy. This procedure:

  • Requires a very small (less than 5 millimeters) incision
  • Typically, won't require any stitches or sutures
  • Uses a mammogram, ultrasound, or MRI to guide the needle and ensure that the tissue sampling is accurate

Results of the biopsy are usually available within two working days. Recovery from the procedure usually takes a couple of days or less.

Surgical biopsy

A surgical biopsy requires an incision in your breast to remove a sample of tissue or a breast lump. You are given some form of anesthesia to prevent discomfort and will have a surgical scar.

Magnetic resonance imaging

A breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to capture detailed images of the breast tissue. During the procedure, you lie very still on a padded platform on your stomach with cushioned openings for your breasts. The platform then slides into the center of the tube-shaped MRI machine. You do not feel the magnetic fields or radio waves around you, but you will hear a loud thumping sound. We provide you with hearing protection and work with you to make this procedure as comfortable as possible.


Mammograms use an X-ray to check breast changes such as:

  • Changes in the size or shape of your breast
  • Lumps
  • Nipple discharge
  • Pain

We use a mammography technique called “tomosynthesis” to visualize your breast in 3 dimensions. This technique helps us to increase breast cancer detection rates and minimize the need to call you back for additional images. 

To gather an image, your breast is positioned on a flat plate. Another plate compresses your breast tissue. You may be asked to lift your arm or use your hand to hold your other breast out of the way during the imaging.

There are two types of mammograms you may have—a screening mammogram or a diagnostic mammogram:

Screening mammogram

A screening mammogram provides regular observation for people without breast symptoms.

Diagnostic mammogram

The experience of a diagnostic mammogram may differ from having a screening mammogram. In a diagnostic mammogram, the radiologist can focus on a specific area in more detail based on symptoms or imaging abnormality. Your health insurance company may charge a copay for a diagnostic mammogram.


This technique uses sound waves beyond the range of human hearing to take images of the breast. This is a non-invasive method of evaluation and diagnosis. It is often used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a mammogram, MRI, or clinical breast exam. In instances where we recommend a needle biopsy, ultrasounds can be used to help guide the procedure.