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Biopsy: Learning If You Have Breast Cancer

June 10, 2008 - 7:30am
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Biopsy: Learning If You Have Breast Cancer

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If you have noticed a lump or other change in your breast, your doctor may recommend several tests to determine if you have cancer. After taking your medical history and performing a manual breast exam, your doctor may recommend a breast x-ray or mammogram. If the lump is suspected to be a cyst, your doctor may use a needle to drain fluid from the lump. Another test is a biopsy , in which tissue is removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Part or all of the lump is removed under local or general anesthesia . Biopsy is the only certain way to diagnose breast cancer.

During the biopsy procedure, the surgeon removes the suspicious tissue and sends it to the pathology department to be analyzed. The pathologist will examine the tissue to see if it is benign or malignant . If it is malignant, the pathologist will try to identify the type of cancer cells present, how fast they reproduce, if the blood vessels or lymph system contains cancer cells, and if the cancer's growth is affected by hormones. All of this information allows your doctor to determine the best treatment for you.

There are two ways that a pathologist prepares the tissue for examination-a "frozen section," which is a quick procedure that takes about 30 minutes, and a "permanent section," which takes a day or two. The frozen section is a quick way of determining whether or not cancer is present. The permanent section is the most accurate method.

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