Breast cancer diagnosis
If you discover a lump, notice any unusual changes in your breasts or have any reason to worry about your breasts, visit your GP.
While most lumps are harmless, early detection is vital, as treatment is more effective the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed.
If you have had a previous diagnosis of breast cancer, you can discuss any new symptoms or concerns with your specialist doctor, nurse or GP. They may suggest you have additional tests to the ones below.
At your GP
Your GP will carry out a physical examination and discuss your general health. If your GP cannot rule out breast cancer they will refer you for an assessment at a hospital breast clinic, which should take place within two weeks of your visit to the GP.
At the hospital
A doctor or nurse will ask you about your symptoms, family history and any medicines you are taking.
The doctor or nurse will also carry out a series of tests called a triple assessment, involving:
- A physical breast examination (including armpits)
- A mammogram or ultra sound scan of the breast
- A fine needle aspiration or needle core biopsy to remove a tiny amount of breast tissue and/or cells to test and see whether they are cancerous
Types of breast cancer
Your diagnosis will tell you the name of the condition you have. It is important to remember that the majority of lumps will be a benign (non-cancerous) condition.
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, this may be described as non-invasive breast cancer, primary breast cancer or secondary breast cancer.
Primary breast cancer, also known as invasive breast cancer, is a tumour that grows outside the ducts and lobules into the surrounding breast tissue.
Secondary breast cancer, or metastatic breast cancer, is when cells from the breast tumour spread to other parts of the body, starting with the axillary lymph nodes under the armpit, and then form tumours in other locations such as the bone or the brain.
Before deciding on treatment, your doctors will also look at the stage of your cancer – what size it is and how much it has spread, and the grade – how different the cancer cells are from normal breast cells and how fast they are growing.
Each breast cancer diagnosis will be different, and you will be individually assessed to receive the best treatment for you based on your diagnosis.