Breast assessment clinics are usually based in hospitals and you will have more tests carried out there. There will always be a specialist breast care nurse at the assessment clinic. They can give you advice, information and support while you are having your tests.
It’s important to remember that about 3 out of 4 women who are asked to go to the assessment clinic will find that their tests show that there is nothing wrong. Some women might have a benign (non-cancerous) breast condition. These women will be asked to attend again for their routine mammogram in three years’ time. Only 1 in 4 women who are asked to go to an assessment clinic will have breast cancer.
The tests might include any of the following:
A doctor or nurse practitioner will ask you if you have had any breast problems or if anyone in your family has had breast cancer. They will examine your breast tissue and the lymph nodes under your arms and in your neck.
More mammograms may be taken at different angles or using magnification.
This test uses sound waves to build up a picture of the breast tissue. Ultrasounds can often tell whether a lump is a solid lump (made of cells) or is a fluid-filled cyst. You will be asked to take off your clothes from the upper part of your body and lie down on a couch. An ultrasound specialist will then put gel onto the breast and gently rub a small device, like a microphone, over the area. This shows a picture of the internal tissue of the breast on a screen. Ultrasound scans are usually painless and only take a few minutes. Areas of scar tissue or lumpiness in the breast may be sore or painful when the ultrasound probe is moved over them. Let the person doing the ultrasound know if it is painful for you.
The doctor might take a small piece of tissue or cells (biopsy) from any abnormal areas. A pathologist will examine the tissue or cells under a microscope to look for cancer cells. A pathologist is a doctor who specialises in analysing cells.
There are different ways of taking a biopsy. Your doctor or nurse will explain the type of biopsy you will have. For a few days afterwards, your breast may feel sore and bruised. Taking painkillers will help with this. Any bruising will go away in a couple of weeks.
Needle (core) biopsy
This is the most common type of biopsy. Before taking the biopsy, the doctor will inject some local anaesthetic into the area to numb it. Then they will use a needle to take a small piece of tissue from abnormal area. You may feel some pressure for a short time during the biopsy.
Vacuum-assisted biopsy (VAB)
The doctor or radiographer will give you an injection of local anaesthetic into the skin to numb the area. They then make a small cut and insert a needle through it into the breast. A mammogram or ultrasound picture helps them guide the needle to the correct area. The doctor uses a vacuum method to gently withdraw a piece of breast tissue into a small collecting chamber.
They can take several biopsies without needing to remove the needle and put it in again.
Fine needle aspiration (FNA)
This is a quick, simple test. The doctor or nurse puts a very fine needle into the area and withdraws a sample of cells into a syringe. A FNA is often used to take a sample of cells from lymph nodes in your armpit.
If you have any questions about the above tests you can ask the nurse in the assessment clinic. You can also contact our cancer information specialists.