If you or your provider notices a lump or abnormality in your breast tissue, after other non-invasive diagnostic imaging like mammograms, CT scanning, or breast MRI, he or she may have recommended you undergo a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure that removes a piece of tissue or a sample of cells from your body so that it can be analyzed under a microscope. This is usually done to determine whether a lump or abnormality is cancerous. Many things can cause abnormalities or lumps in your breasts that aren’t cancerous, but it can be nerve-wracking to wait while the lab analyzes your biopsy results.
If your biopsy does not show cancer
If your biopsy result comes back negative, it means that no cancer was found. Your provider may order additional biopsies to be more certain that no cancer is present, or he or she may recommend you take additional steps to monitor your breasts for additional changes and learn to spot certain warning signs for cancer. These preventive measures can include:
- Getting more frequent mammograms
- Scheduling more regular breast exams with your health care professional
- Ensuring that you engage in regular examination and monitoring of changes in your breasts.
If you are at high risk for breast cancer and have had observed abnormalities in your breasts, you should talk with your doctor about both modest lifestyle changes and more aggressive steps you can take to reduce your risk.
If your biopsy shows breast cancer
The biopsy might show that the lump or abnormality contains cancerous cells. If that’s the case, additional testing may be needed to determine whether it is in situ (located in just one spot, like a lump or mass) or whether it has spread into nearby tissue. This kind of cancer, called invasive or infiltrating, may also spread to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body through the lymph system and bloodstream.
Examination of the cells under a microscope can also show what they look like and how they are arranged, which helps to determine the cancer’s grade. The grade tells how slowly or quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread and helps your provider determine what type of treatment will best slow or stop its growth. Other characteristics can also be determined by a biopsy, including
- Tumors with increased levels of the protein called HER2/neu are called HER2-positive. They tend to grow and spread faster than other breast cancers. A biopsy allows doctors to test your cancer to see whether it is HER2-positive. If so, it can be treated with drugs that specifically target the HER2/neu protein.
- Some breast cancers have estrogen and progesterone hormone receptors (receptor-positive), and others do not (receptor-negative). On breast cancer cells, these receptors can attract those hormones, which helps the cancer grow. Finding out if a cancer has these receptors will help your doctor decide if hormone therapy will help you.
Follow-up questions and treatment
Your provider will discuss the results of your biopsy with you. If it’s negative, he or she will let you know whether you should have any additional tests. You should ask what you should do to follow up and reduce your cancer risk as well as when you should have your next screening mammogram.
If your biopsy indicates cancer, your provider will discuss whether additional tests are needed or what kind of treatment options are recommended for the specific type of cancer that was identified.
At Iowa Radiology we understand how stressful and frightening a cancer scare or diagnosis can be. We believe in compassionate, total patient care throughout the diagnostic and treatment process.
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