Dr. Richard Martinez, a board certified radiologist on staff at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, answers your questions about today's breast cancer diagnostics.
Q. How is breast cancer diagnosed?
A. There are a variety of options that gather together not only the specifics of a breast lump, but also take into account the patient's personal and family history, age, even the results of a previous mammogram, to ensure that she has the quickest and most accurate diagnosis possible.
If a breast abnormality is detected with screening mammography or physical exam, a woman will typically be referred for additional breast imaging, such as diagnostic mammography, ultrasound, or other imaging tests. Depending on the results of these imaging tests, she may be referred for a breast biopsy.
Q. What imaging tests are used to diagnosis breast cancer?
A. There are three imaging tests that are effective in breast health diagnosis. A diagnostic mammogram is a breast x-ray that is used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other sign or symptom has been found. It can also be used to evaluate changes found during a screening mammogram, or to view breast tissue that is difficult to screen.
A breast ultrasound is the use of sound waves instead of radiation to generate snapshots or moving pictures of structures inside the breast. A transducer, which is similar to a microphone, emits sound waves as it is moved over the breast and picks up echoes as the sound waves bounce off tissue. A computer transforms these echoes into an image that is displayed on a monitor. A breast ultrasound can indicate whether a lump is caused by a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass, which is more indicative of cancer.
A breast MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to make computer images of the breast. Another non-invasive procedure used to determine the composition of a lump, an MRI produces hundreds of three dimensional, cross-sectional images of the breast, which are then reviewed by a radiologist. No radiation or x-rays are used.
Q. What is the next step after imaging tests?
A. Depending on the size and location of the abnormality, a physician may elect to perform a minimally invasive procedure, such as an image-guided biopsy to help determine if cancer is present. It's important to note that not all lumps are cancerous. Cysts, fibroadenomas and pseudolumps are benign, so it's prudent for us to use the least invasive diagnostic tests.
Q. If someone has questions about a breast abnormality, what should he or she do?
A. The best course of action whenever anyone suspects a lump or mass is to see his or her primary care physician or call Memorial's Breast Health Program at (337) 494-4755.