Diagnostic tests

If your mammogram shows an abnormality, your doctor may order additional testing, such as an ultrasound, MRI, PET scan or biopsy. Our team understands the anxiety that facing a possible cancer diagnosis can create. As a rule, if you have an abnormal diagnostic mammogram or a new breast lump, a Main Line Health breast surgeon will see you within 48 hours at one of five locations across the region. At this appointment, the surgeon will determine whether you need a breast biopsy and the best biopsy approach.

Keep in mind, however, that a breast abnormality does not necessarily indicate cancer.

Breast cancer nurse navigators

We understand that finding your way through the complexities of breast health and breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. Our breast cancer nurse navigators are here to guide you through this process and offer support and assistance. They provide individualized guidance and support to patients, families and caregivers throughout treatment, from screening through survivorship. A nurse navigator is a registered nurse who acts as a liaison between you and your health care providers.

Genetics and risk assessment

At least 10 percent of cancers are caused by inherited factors. Individuals identified to have inherited cancer risks may have earlier or more frequent cancer screening, may consider options for cancer prevention or, if diagnosed with cancer, may have additional options for treatment or risk reduction.

Our Genetics and Risk Assessment team is available to meet with individuals with a personal or family history of cancer. Our licensed and certified genetic counselors review your history, discuss appropriate genetic testing options, coordinate testing and interpret results, identify at-risk family members and outline a personalized plan for prevention, early detection or treatment.

Mammography

Main Line Health recommends that all women begin annual screening with mammography at age 40. Women at higher risk (e.g., those with genetic abnormalities, strong family history and /or personal risk factors) should discuss with their physician whether additional screening studies or starting screening earlier would be beneficial. Annual screening should continue into later years as long as a woman is in good health.

Tomo, or digital breast tomosynthesis (3D mammogram), is the latest breakthrough in screening mammograms. 3D mammograms have been shown to make the most difference for women between the ages of 40 and 50 who have dense breasts and/or those with a personal history of breast cancer. Main Line Health offers 3D mammogram appointments at 10 convenient health centers and hospital locations throughout the Philadelphia region. We promise to get you in quickly for an appointment at your chosen site. And we get your results back to you the very next business day—or sooner. Weekend and evening hours are available.

All of our 3D mammography sites are equipped with SmartCurve™ technology, providing a more comfortable mammography experience.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a breast cancer specialist at Main Line Health, call 484.476.3333 or request an appointment online.

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Ultrasound

Breast ultrasound uses sound waves to look at the inside of the breast. It is often used to characterize a new finding seen on a mammogram or a lump that can be felt, and may be able to provide information on whether it is a fluid-filled cyst or solid mass.

MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a unique view into the interior of the body and has become an essential tool for detecting breast cancer. MRI provides important diagnostic information that cannot be obtained with other imaging techniques.

Main Line Health uses the latest MRI technology, including open MRI.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and PET/CT

Positron emission tomography (PET) is an imaging technology that takes advantage of body metabolism and cell function to show where cancers may be hiding. PET is unlike any other imaging technique because it doesn’t simply look at structures; it looks at metabolic activity. The unique ability of the PET scanner to see chemical and physiological changes at the cellular level allows for earlier detection and more accurate diagnosis. PET can also be used to determine appropriate cancer treatments and efficiently track the body's response to those treatments.

Combining the power of PET with computerized tomography, the PET/CT scanner is setting a new standard. Designed for maximum imaging flexibility, ease of use and patient comfort, the PET/CT captures highly detailed views of the body in seconds, which can assess tumor activity and depth, find residual cancer cells and monitor for recurrent cancer.

Biopsy

A biopsy involves using a hollow needle or surgically removing a sample of tissue or cells from a part of your breast and having that sample studied under a microscope.

A radiologist will usually perform the biopsy, either in a hospital or outpatient setting. You will receive local anesthesia to numb the area where the needle will be inserted.

A needle biopsy uses imaging technology to help insert and guide a small needle into the breast to obtain a tissue biopsy. The three main types of needle biopsy are:

  • Stereotactic breast biopsy – This minimally invasive procedure uses three-dimensional computerized imaging to pinpoint suspicious areas in the breast for biopsy.
  • Ultrasound-guided biopsy –The physician uses an ultrasound to accurately locate the suspicious area and to guide the needle into position for a specimen.
  • MRI-guided biopsy – This biopsy uses a powerful magnetic field to locate a breast lump or abnormality and guide a needle to remove a tissue sample.

Another option is an incisional or excisional biopsy, used to remove a lump that has been found in the breast. With presurgical lesion localization, the radiologist uses mammography, ultrasound or MRI to place a marker as a roadmap for the surgeon.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a type of surgical biopsy that targets the lymph nodes that are closest to the tumor. Removal of the sentinel lymph node can help determine whether cancer has spread.