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Breast cancer often uses different combinations of treatment.

Breast cancer often uses different combinations of treatment.
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Breast cancer diagnosis

2-minute read

Mammogram and breast ultrasound

If you have symptoms of breast cancer and have been referred by your doctor, you may have a mammogram to produce an X-ray of the breasts. You may also need an ultrasound scan.

If you are under 35, your doctor may suggest you have a breast ultrasound scan only. Younger women have denser breasts, which means a mammogram is not as effective as ultrasound in detecting cancer.

Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the inside of your breasts. The image produced will show any lumps or abnormalities present in your breasts. Your doctor may also suggest a breast ultrasound if they need to know whether a lump in your breast is solid or contains liquid.

Women who are at high risk of breast cancer or who have very dense breast tissue may have a test called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses a large magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the breast tissue on a computer.


A biopsy involves taking a sample of tissue cells from your breast and testing them to see if they are cancerous. You may also need a scan and a needle test on lymph nodes in your armpit (axilla) to see if these are also affected.

Biopsies can be taken in different ways and the type you have will depend on what your doctor knows about your condition. Different methods of carrying out a biopsy include:

  • Needle aspiration may be used to test a sample of your breast cells for cancer or to drain a benign cyst (a small fluid-filled lump). Your doctor will use a small needle to extract a sample of cells, without removing any tissue.
  • Core biopsy is the most common type of biopsy. A sample of tissue is taken from a lump in your breast using a large needle. You will have a local anaesthetic, which means you will be awake but your breast will be numb. Your doctor may suggest you have a guided needle biopsy (usually this is guided by ultrasound or MRI scans).

For more detailed information on tests to diagnose breast cancer, visit the Cancer Australia website.

Sometimes it is helpful to talk to others about your experience. Cancer Council Australia offers support for you and your loved ones via their helpline on 13 11 20.

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Last reviewed: July 2018

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