Further tests after diagnosis

If your biopsy shows that there are breast cancer cells, you will need to have further tests. This will help you and your doctor make decisions about treatment.

You will usually have blood tests and an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. This scan uses magnetism to build up a picture of your body. It may be used to find out more about the size of the cancer and to help decide which operation you should have.

You may also have further tests to see whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. You may have a bone scan, which shows up abnormal areas of bone. You may also have a CT (computerised tomography) scan. This scan uses x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. It takes less than half an hour and isn’t painful.

Waiting for your test results can be difficult. It can help to talk about your worries with someone close to you.

Further tests for breast cancer

If the biopsy results show there are breast cancer cells, you may need more tests before you can start your treatment.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan

An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up cross-sectional pictures of your body. If you have invasive lobular cancer, it may be done to find out the size of the cancer and help doctors decide which operation you should have. The scan is painless and takes about 30 minutes.

The scanner is a powerful magnet, so you’ll be asked to remove any metal belongings, including jewellery, before entering the scanning room. If you have any metal implants or have worked with metal or in the metal industry, tell your doctor. 

Before the scan you may be given an injection of dye into a vein in your arm. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly.

You’ll be asked to lie very still on a couch, inside a metal cylinder. The scan is noisy, so you’ll be given earplugs or headphones.

Blood tests

You may have blood samples taken to check your general health and how well your liver and kidneys are working. Sometimes, doctors will use specific blood tests to diagnose and monitor your cancer. We have more detailed information about having a blood test.

Other tests

Some women may have scans to check if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. You may hear these referred to as staging scans.

Bone scan

This test shows up abnormal areas of bone. You have a small amount of radioactive substance injected into a vein. You will need to wait for two to three hours between having the injection and the scan. The scan may take an hour. Abnormal bone absorbs more radioactivity than normal bone and shows up on the scan pictures.

The amount of radioactive substance used is small. But you will be advised not to have close contact with pregnant women, babies and young children for up to 24 hours after the scan. After this, your body will have got rid of the radioactivity in your urine. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s important to phone the scanning department before the test for advice.

If you are travelling through an airport in the days following your scan, you could take your appointment letter with you. Some airport scanners may detect the small amounts of radiation in your body.

CT (computerised tomography) scan

A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan takes 10–30 minutes and is painless. It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.

CT scan
CT scan

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You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. It’s important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.

You’ll probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.

Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

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