Diagnostics & Testing

When it turns out a woman has a lump in her breast, or her mammogram detects a suspicious area, the next step is often a biopsy and diagnostic testing. Biopsies are procedures that extract a small bit of tissue for microscopic testing to determine whether a lump or abnormality is benign or malignant. These procedures are usually performed in an outpatient setting, using minimally invasive techniques. If a woman’s mammogram indicates a suspicious area, we can turn to a variety of biopsies and other diagnostic technologies when appropriate, including the following:

  • Fine-Needle Biopsy – Fine needle biopsy, is a diagnostic procedure used to investigate lumps or masses. In this technique, a thin (23-25 gauge), hollow needle is inserted into the mass for sampling of cells that, after being stained, will be examined under a microscope.
  • Stereotactic Needle Breast Biopsy – Stereotactic breast biopsy uses mammography – a specific type of breast imaging that uses low-dose x-rays — to help locate a breast abnormality and remove a tissue sample for examination under a microscope. It’s less invasive than surgical biopsy, leaves little to no scarring and can be an excellent way to evaluate calcium deposits or tiny masses that are not visible on ultrasound.
  • Sentinel Node Biopsy – Sentinel node biopsy is a surgical procedure used to determine if cancer has spread beyond a primary tumor into your lymphatic system. The sentinel nodes are the first few lymph nodes into which a tumor drains.
  • Expert Cytopathology – Cytopathology is a diagnostic technique that examines cells from various body sites to determine the cause or the nature of disease. The first cytopatholy test developed was the Pap test which has been widely utilized in the last 50 years for screening and diagnosing of cervical cancer and its precursors.
  • Breast Ultrasound – A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make images of the breast. A breast ultrasound is non-invasive and often used as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a mammogram, breast MRI or clinical breast exam. If a needle biopsy is needed, breast ultrasound may also be used to help guide the procedure.
  • Breast MRI – Breast MRI’s may be used in addition to mammography as a screening tool for women at high-risk of developing breast cancer. These scans provide a more detailed view of the breast and are often used to evaluate the extent of disease prior to surgery, minimizing the need for secondary treatment.

Compassionate Approach

We understand that abnormal results can be frightening, so we do all we can to expedite the process. If something turns up on a mammogram or any other diagnostic test, we notify our patients within 48 hours. If appropriate, the patient is introduced to our on-site patient navigator, who is available to answer questions, provide additional information, and guidance. Plus, we have a close relationship with the experts at Marin General Hospital’s Cancer Institute should follow up treatment and care be required.