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HealthInfo Canterbury

How do I know if I have breast cancer?

breast cancer checkThe most common symptom of breast cancer is a painless lump or thickening in your breast.

Breast lumps are relatively common and many aren't cancerous. They can be fluid-filled cysts or a harmless growth called a fibroadenoma. But if you find a lump in your breast, it's best to see your GP so they can assess it and arrange any investigations that you might need.

Other symptoms that may be a sign of breast cancer include:

Breast pain is usually not a sign of breast cancer.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

Breast cancer is usually picked up either through a breast screening mammogram or through diagnostic breast imaging that's done after a woman notices changes in her breast.

A screening mammogram can pick up breast cancer before you even notice any symptoms. If it finds any unusual-looking areas, you may then have another image taken that looks specifically at the unusual area. A radiologist may also physically examine your breast to check for any signs of breast disease that match what they see on the mammogram.

Diagnostic breast imaging is similar to a screening mammogram, but focuses on any abnormal areas that you've found. Your GP may refer you for one if you find a lump or change in your breast. You can have diagnostic breast imaging at any time, even if you've had a clear screening mammogram within the past two years.

Women younger than 35 may have an ultrasound first, rather than a mammogram. This is because younger women have denser breast tissue, and an ultrasound can give a clearer picture. If the first mammogram or ultrasound shows any unusual-looking areas, you may be recalled to have another image taken.

What further tests might I need?

If you need further investigation, your doctor will take cells from the area of concern to look at under a microscope and find out whether they're cancer or non-cancerous (benign). This is called a biopsy.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by oncoplastic breast and general surgeon, Canterbury DHB. Page created May 2018.


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Review key: HIBCA-57360