Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Staging Information
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The first step in evaluating the condition of a woman with suspected breast cancer is a complete medical history and physical exam. Your physician asks questions about your symptoms, any other health problems, and risk factors for benign breast conditions and breast cancer. Your physician will feel for any lump or suspicious area and its texture, size, and relationship to the skin and chest muscles. Any changes in the nipples or the skin of your breast will be noted. In addition to the medical history and physical exam, imaging tests and biopsies may be done to diagnose breast cancer.
Identifying the cancer stage is one of the most important factors in selecting treatment options. Staging is the process physicians use to assess the size and location of a your cancer. Several tests may be performed to help stage breast cancer including clinical breast exams and certain imaging tests such as a chest X-ray, mammogram, and bone scan, CT scan and MRI scan. A radiologist that specializes in breast cancer will interpret the results of your imaging tests to help determine the stage of your cancer.
During your treatment, you will continue to have diagnostic imaging tests to monitor your response to therapy and to your treatment plan. For example, you may have elevated tumor markers such as CEA and CA 15-3, which will be monitored to detect the presence of cancer within your body and your response to therapy. After your treatment is completed, you will continue routine diagnostic tests to check for any recurrence of cancer.
Signs of a breast cancer recurrence are often similar to the initial warning signs for breast cancer. These signs include breast lumps, thickenings, discoloration and swollen lymph glands. Women who notice any breast abnormalities should notify their physician as soon as possible.