Diagnosing Breast Cancer

In recent years, physicians have been able to diagnose breast cancer at earlier stages thanks to greater public awareness of the disease, improved technology and yearly screening. Virginia Mason’s experts determine if a patient has breast cancer through:

Imaging Tests for Breast Disease Diagnosis


Virginia Mason is home to a nationally-accredited imaging center, where we use the most advanced, least invasive imaging technologies for breast cancer patients. Our screening tests include:

Mammography Screening

A mammogram is a type of breast x-ray that can detect tumors too small to feel. Mammograms may detect breast cancer several years before a tumor becomes large enough to be felt as a lump.

The American College of Radiology recommends that mammograms be scheduled accordingly:

Age / Screening Recommendation

40 and over

Breast self exam (optional) and an annual mammogram and clinical breast exam.

20-39

Breast self exam (optional) and a clinical breast exam every three years.

Diagnostic Mammography

If your physician detects an abnormality when performing a mammogram, they will refer you for an ultrasound, a diagnostic mammogram, or both. Most patients who are recalled for a diagnostic mammogram do not have cancer.

A diagnostic mammogram can provide more information about abnormalities by obtaining supplemental images, including magnification and spot compression views. Most diagnostic mammograms confirm that a patient does not have cancer.

Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (3D Mammography)

Virginia Mason's Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kirkland and University Village locations offer digital breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography). This advanced breast imaging can improve the early detection of otherwise hidden cancer and is recommended for high-risk patients, including those with dense breasts and cancer survivors.

Ultrasound

This test uses high-frequency sound waves to form an image of breast tissue. The radiologist also can review the images in real time during the scan. Ultrasounds often reveal whether a lump is solid or a fluid-filled, non-cancerous cyst.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI combines a magnetic field and radio waves to create an image on a computer screen of the body’s internal organs. We often use this test to distinguish between scar tissue and cancer in patients with previous breast cancer surgery, to define the extent of cancer within the breast, or to give additional information in women with cancer whose breasts are difficult to evaluate with mammogram or ultrasound.

To learn more about imaging tests for breast disease diagnosis or to schedule an appointment, please call (206) 341-1700.

Breast Biopsy

Virginia Mason’s Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Federal Way, Kirkland and University Village locations offer digital breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography). This advanced breast imaging can improve the early detection of otherwise hidden cancer and is recommended for high-risk patients, including those with dense breasts and cancer survivors.

Core Biopsy

A core biopsy is a highly effective, minimally-invasive way to test if tissue is cancerous. Radiologists typically perform this type of biopsy using either ultrasound or mammographic guidance in the Breast Imaging Center, depending upon which technique reveals the lesion. This is an outpatient procedure that does not require stitches and takes less than an hour.

Virginia Mason has been performing core biopsies since 1993 and was among the first facilities in the Pacific Northwest to offer this more comfortable, less invasive and less costly biopsy method. We guarantee patients will receive results quickly – within three business days.

Excisional Biopsy

During an excisional biopsy, surgeons typically remove an entire breast abnormality, or a small part of a larger tumor and a surrounding margin of normal-appearing breast tissue. Then, they examine this sample under a microscope looking for signs of cancer. Most excised biopsies do not contain cancer.