Your doctor will ask about factors that increase your risk of breast cancer, especially a family history of the illness. He or she also will look for the symptoms described above, including a lump or thickening in the breast, nipple inversion or discharge, swelling or changes in breast contour, redness or dimpling of breast skin, and enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit.
If your doctor discovers a lump in your breast during a physical examination or your screening mammogram detects an area of abnormal breast tissue, your doctor will recommend an evaluation for breast cancer. In some cases, the next step is an ultrasound examination to confirm whether the lump is a solid tumor or a fluid-filled, noncancerous cyst. If the lump is solid, your doctor probably will recommend a breast biopsy, which means breast tissue will be removed for laboratory testing. Sometimes, your doctor will recommend a biopsy without doing an ultrasound first. Several types of breast biopsy are currently available, including fine-needle biopsy, core biopsy, stereotactic needle biopsy and surgical biopsy, which involves the removal of all or part of the breast lump.
The biopsy will confirm whether or not you have breast cancer. Depending on the specific type of biopsy, and whether neighboring lymph nodes were also removed and examined, the biopsy report also may clarify the extent of cancer spread, whether the tumor cells are estrogen-receptor positive or negative, and whether there are too many copies of the HER-2 gene in the cancer cells. This information will help determine the type of recommended treatment.
Breast cancer will continue to grow and spread until it is treated.