Though not officially recommended as a screening method for breast cancer, self-breast exams can be a good way to compliment regular screenings, which can include clinical breast exams, mammograms and magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs). Knowing how your breasts look and feel normally may make you more able to detect subtle changes in them, and more capable of discussing those specific signs with your doctor.

So how does finding a small lump in the breast ultimately become officially diagnosed as breast cancer?

If anything out of the ordinary is detected by a screening method, additional testing will most likely be performed to confirm the findings. These diagnostic tests can detect many abnormalities, including cysts, calcifications and tumors.

Any of those discoveries can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The only way to properly determine whether someone has breast cancer is to have tissue or cells from the suspicious area extracted and clinically tested by a pathologist.

There are a number of different ways a doctor can do this. Some methods utilize the movement of fluid to extract cells for testing. Ductal lavage is a pathology test in which the doctor releases a small amount of salt water solution into a duct within the breast by way of a tube inserted through the nipple, and that solution is then extracted and tested for cancerous cells. Aspiration is another fluid-oriented method of extracting cells for examination by a pathologist.

Other methods require small pieces of tissue to be extracted from the affected area to be examined in a laboratory, otherwise known as biopsies.

According to the American Cancer Society, some of the most common forms of biopsies are:

• Fine-needle aspiration
• Core needle biopsy
• Stereotactic biopsy
• Surgical biopsy

A pathologist can then microscopically examine the samples for the presence of any cancerous cells. If cancerous cells are present, an official diagnosis of breast cancer can be made. However, more information can be discovered from a pathology report, such as whether the breast cancer is estrogen receptor positive or negative. The pathology report will also show whether or not the patient has increased levels of a certain protein that accelerates cancer cell growth, which can affect both your diagnosis and treatment.

Once the diagnosis has been made, the breast cancer will be staged (there are four stages) so that the severity of the disease can be determined. Available treatment options are dependent on how far along the breast cancer is at the time of diagnosis.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer in Georgia and feel it was detected late or misdiagnosed by your doctor, please request a copy of our free report, Breast Cancer: The Risks, The Signs, Diagnosis and Treatment, and contact an experienced Atlanta medical malpractice and breast cancer lawyer at the Dover Law Firm at 770-518-1133 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal options.