If your healthcare provider suspects you might have breast cancer, specific exams and tests will be recommended to make a definitive diagnosis. We offer expert breast cancer screening and imaging tests at:
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, our team of specialists in the Breast Oncology Program at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) will provide your cancer care. We evaluate thousands of patients for breast cancer each year. Affiliated with Harvard Medical School, our team of surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists work together to collect and evaluate all diagnostic information to ensure a clear understanding of your tumor type and characteristics. This information is then used to develop a targeted treatment plan designed to optimize your long-term health.
Breast cancer diagnostic and breast cancer surgery services are available at:
The initial step is a complete history and physical exam. This includes reviewing your personal and family medical history as well as determining current overall health concerns. A breast specialist will also perform a clinical breast examination. Diagnostic breast imaging may also be performed to further evaluate a finding on your breast exam.
Watch a video on breast imaging.
We offer you the important benefit of having your breast images reviewed by breast imaging specialists who devote their time exclusively to breast imaging, including mammography, breast ultrasound and breast MRI. The high volume of exams that these specialists read enables them to be skilled at identifying the subtle changes in breast tissue which may indicate cancer.
Our experts utilize the most advanced technology to review imaging studies, including digital 3-D mammography which captures images of the breast that can be seen on a computer screen, and computer-aided detection (CAD) software which can search digitized mammographic images for abnormal areas of the breast that require further analysis.
Access information about digital 3-D mammography.
Your diagnostic tests may include one or more of the following procedures:
In some cases, more extensive imaging may be necessary to determine whether breast cancer has spread beyond the breast. When this is the case, CT scans and/or bone scans may be used. In select cases, a PET scan may also be necessary.
If an imaging test reveals an abnormal finding that cannot be resolved through other imaging techniques, your doctor will likely recommend a biopsy. A biopsy involves the removal of a small sample of tissue through one of several techniques, depending on the location and quality of the tissue to be examined. Radiologists, pathologists and sometimes surgeons are involved in the biopsy process.
Types of biopsies include:
Once a biopsy is completed, tissue samples are examined by pathologists who specialize exclusively in breast cancer. Pathologists' findings are critical to determining the best treatment for your cancer. At DF/BWCC, pathologists are key members of your medical team, providing consultation to clinicians and, at times, working side-by-side with surgeons. Our pathologists not only evaluate tissues to characterize your cancer, but they also investigate any unusual or unexpected findings in the breast tissue.
Watch this video on breast biopsy.
Researchers at DF/BWCC have discovered that breast cancers differ not only in their location, size and behavior, but also in their hormonal and genetic characteristics. Consequently, treatment may vary significantly and will be customized according to your unique preferences and condition.
This system classifies cancer cells in terms of how abnormal they look under a microscope and is used to create an individualized treatment plan. Grade 1 tumors are generally considered the least aggressive, while Grade 3 tumors do not look like normal cells of the same type and tend to grow more rapidly than tumors with a lower grade.
Staging Breast Cancer
Cancer is staged based on tumor size, location, and the degree to which the cancer has spread, either to the lymph nodes and/or to other parts of the body. A review of your breast mammogram and other imaging, physical exams and additional scans can help to determine the clinical stage of your cancer.
Read more about types of breast cancer at Susan G. Komen.
Access information about types of breast cancer provided by The American Society of Breast Surgeons Foundation.
Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.
Access a complete directory of patient and family services.
For over a century, a leader in patient care, medical education and research, with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.