Most women know it is important to perform monthly self-exams to find lumps in the breast tissue and to receive annual mammograms that look for potentially cancerous cells. Remember, finding a lump does not necessarily mean you have breast cancer. There are various reasons women can have breast lumps. Some of them are other breast diseases and some are harmless conditions that pose no threat to a woman’s health. Getting a definitive breast cancer diagnosis from a doctor is the only way to know whether or not you have the disease.
Mammograms and other detection techniques can help show where possible tumors exist, but a breast biopsy is the only way to know for sure if the cells are cancerous. In a biopsy, trained medical professionals directly inspect the surgically removed tissue for cancer instead of relying on images. Once the surgeon performs the biopsy, she or he will send the tissue sample to a lab where it can be tested for the presence of cancer.
There are several different methods for removing a portion of the tissue during the biopsy. After consultation, you and your doctor will decide which breast cancer diagnosis option is best for you.
During the open surgical biopsy method, a surgeon will use a scalpel to make a 1.5- to 2-inch incision to gain access to the tumor. This method provides the largest sample and the results are almost 100 percent accurate. The downside is the incision can cause scarring and requires stitches that take longer to heal and can slightly disfigure the breast.
Large core surgical breast cancer biopsies are most often used when diagnosing masses that cannot be felt during exams. The surgeon removes a 5mm to 20mm core of tissue without putting the patient under heavy sedation. This provides a large sample of tissue to test, but still requires stitches and can cause scarring.
Vacuum-assisted breast cancer diagnosis uses 11 or 14 gauge needles that can cause a small scar. The advantage of the vacuum-assisted diagnosis method is that surgeons can retrieve several samples during a single insertion. The downside is the needle cannot get good samples from hard-to-reach places and does not provide as large a sample as surgical techniques.
Core needle breast cancer diagnosis uses “coring” needles to gather several samples from breast tissue. The small size of the needles means that stitches are not required and internal scars do not form. Unfortunately, doctors will need to make several insertions during this process, which can be uncomfortable even under local anesthesia. The small sample size can also make it difficult to get an accurate result when compared to the larger samples retrieved through surgical methods.
As the name suggests, the fine needle aspiration breast cancer diagnosis uses very small needles. This is a fast, easy method that does not necessarily require anesthesia. Some advantages of this method are a lack of scarring and readily available results. The most significant disadvantage is that the small size of the tissue samples can lead to misdiagnosis or incomplete assessments.