Found a lump?
Go see your doc! The first thing to do when you feel a lump or notice an unusual change in your breast is see your doctor for an examination. You might find out it’s nothing – more often than not it’s harmless. But if your doctor can’t rule out breast cancer through a clinical breast exam, she will refer you to a breast cancer clinic for an assessment, which includes a physical exam, breast imaging (ultrasound and/or mammogram) and a biopsy if necessary.
Get assessed. Your assessment can involve any or all of the following diagnostic tools, depending on your age and physical characteristics.
Ultrasound. If you’re under 35, you’ll probably be scanned using ultrasound, which takes a picture of your breasts using sound waves. This method provides better images of younger breasts, which tend to be denser. It is also particularly useful for telling the difference between a solid lump and a cyst and for predicting the size of a tumour.
Mammogram. This is an X-ray of your breast tissue, so it involves some radiation. Each breast will be X-rayed at least once. It can feel a bit awkward, but it’s an effective tool for detecting breast cancer in its early stages.
Biopsy. This is usually the only way to tell if a lump in your breast is benign or cancerous. With a biopsy, a sample of your breast tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. The standard method is core biopsy, where a small amount of tissue is removed with a needle. This is done under local anesthetic. 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. This is an outpatient procedure that takes about 10 minutes. Other methods include excision biopsy and wire-assisted biopsy. Your doctor will recommend the most suitable type for you.
It takes a team! The investigations and any subsequent treatment for breast cancer will involve a team of health care specialists, usually consisting of a breast surgeon, a breast care nurse, a radiologist, an oncologist (a cancer specialist), and a pathologist or cytologist. A cytologist is someone who specializes in diagnosing diseases by studying tissues and cells. Your personal support is as important as your professional care, so make sure to include a friend or family member in the process.
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If you find a lump and your doctor wants to wait and watch it before going any further, insist on a referral for assessment. Her lack of immediate concern may be comforting, but early detection is key to beating breast cancer. Waiting is not!
Bring a friend or family member along to appointments to take notes, ask questions and support you on your journey.