Breast Cancer - Diagnosis

The primary medical tool in diagnosing breast cancer is a mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray photograph of the breast. The American Cancer Society currently recommends that women between the ages of forty and fifty have a mammogram every year or two. The society suggests a yearly mammogram for women over the age of fifty.

The purpose of a mammogram is to find any lumps or other changes in the breast. If such changes are found, additional tests may be necessary. One test is a breast biopsy. The tissue removed during a biopsy can be studied under a microscope, which allows a doctor to determine whether cells in the sample are cancerous or not.

If cancer is found, tests can also be used to determine if the cancer has metastasized (pronounced muh-TASS-tuh-sized). Metastasis (pronounced muh-TASS-tuh-sis) is the process by which cancer cells spread to other parts of the body. Testing for metastasis involves removal of lymph nodes from the armpit. The presence of cancer cells in the lymph nodes suggests that the cancer has begun to spread.

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