Breast Cancer Tests: Screening, Diagnosis, and Monitoring

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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.

Expert Quote

"A screening test tries to find a disease before there are any symptoms. With breast cancer, there's a misconception that if you feel fine, don't have a lump, and have no family history of breast cancer, you're okay. The truth is that three-quarters of the women in whom we find breast cancer have no risk factors. So screening is important for everyone."

-- Susan Greenstein Orel, M.D.

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