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Screening and Testing

Learn about the many tests you may have at different points in the process of screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

Whether you’ve never had breast cancer and want to increase your odds of early detection, you’ve recently been diagnosed, or you are in the midst of treatment and follow-up, you know that breast cancer and medical tests go hand in hand.

Most breast-cancer-related tests fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Screening tests: Screening tests (such as yearly mammograms) are given routinely to people who appear to be healthy and are not suspected of having breast cancer. Their purpose is to find breast cancer early, before any symptoms can develop and the cancer usually is easier to treat.

  • Diagnostic tests: Diagnostic tests (such as biopsy) are given to people who are suspected of having breast cancer, either because of symptoms they may be experiencing or a screening test result. These tests are used to determine whether or not breast cancer is present and, if so, whether or not it has traveled outside the breast. Diagnostic tests also are used to gather more information about the cancer to guide decisions about treatment.

  • Monitoring tests: Once breast cancer is diagnosed, many tests are used during and after treatment to monitor how well therapies are working. Monitoring tests also may be used to check for any signs of recurrence.

On the following pages, you can read more about the many tests you may have at different points in the process of screening, diagnosis, and treatment. The tests are covered in alphabetical order.


Getting Your Test Results

Often, the hardest part of screening and testing isn’t undergoing the tests themselves, but waiting for results to come back. If you’re like most people, you will want your test results as soon as possible. With an emergency or just before a chemotherapy treatment, test results generally come back quickly. But when your doctor orders a non-emergency test — which most breast cancer-related tests are — the lab or radiology department may not send the results back as quickly. Your doctor isn’t likely to know when the test actually gets done or if the results are available until the report comes into the office 3 to 7 days later. Meanwhile, you may think that your doctor has the results and isn’t getting back to you.

Although there is no way to make test results come back any faster, there are steps you can take to feel more in control of the process. Simply asking about when to expect results and making arrangements with your doctor to get them can go a long way toward reducing anxiety. Another good way of taking control is to keep copies of all your test results in one place. That way, you’ll always have them in hand if you need to share the information with another doctor or refer to it yourself.

Learn more.

— Last updated on July 27, 2022, 1:53 PM