Diagnosing Benign (Noncancerous) Breast Conditions

How are benign breast conditions and infections diagnosed?

In addition to obtaining a complete medical history, your health care provider, in diagnosing a breast condition, may:

  • Perform a complete physical examination to:

    • Locate any lump and feel its characteristics (i.e., texture, size, and relationship to the skin and chest muscles).

    • Look for changes in the nipples or the skin of the breast.

    • Check lymph nodes under the arm and above the collarbones.

  • Request imaging tests, including:

    • Diagnostic mammography to look for masses and calcifications.

    • Breast ultrasound to further evaluate information from the physical examination or mammography.

  • If there is discharge, other than breast milk, from the nipples, request a laboratory microscopic examination of the discharge.

  • If there is discharge, other than breast milk, from the nipples, request a ductogram X-ray of the nipples.

  • Request a biopsy of tissue removed from the suspicious area.

What are the different types of biopsy?

  • Image-guided biopsies--those aided by ultrasound or other imaging techniques, including:

    • Fine needle aspiration--a very fine (thin) needle is guided into the suspicious area and a small sample of the tissue is removed.

    • Core needle biopsy--a larger needle is guided into the lump to remove a small cylinder (core) of tissue.

  • Surgical biopsy--a surgical procedure is used to remove all or part of a lump.

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