How are breast lumps evaluated?
Most breast lumps are benign (not cancer). Proving that a lump is not cancer often involves imaging tests. One or more of the following imaging tests may be performed:
- mammogram (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=mammo): Mammography is a type of x-ray examination used to examine the breasts. This type of imaging involves exposing the breasts to a small amount of ionizing radiation to obtain pictures of the inside of the breasts. See the Safety page (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/safety/) for more information about x-rays.
- breast ultrasound (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=breastus): Breast ultrasound is a type of imaging that uses sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the breasts. Breast ultrasound can capture images of areas of the breast that may be difficult to see with mammography. It can also help to determine whether a breast lump is a solid mass or a cyst.
- breast MRI (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=breastmr): During breast MRI, a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses and a computer will be used to produce detailed pictures of the inside of the breasts. MRI is helpful in evaluating breast lumps that are not visible with mammography or ultrasound, particularly in women with dense breast tissue.
If a lump is proven to be benign by its appearance on these exams, no further steps may need to be taken. Your doctor may want to monitor the area at future visits to check if the breast lump has changed, grown or gone away.
If these tests do not clearly show that the lump is benign, a biopsy may be necessary. One of the following image-guided procedures may be performed:
- ultrasound-guided biopsy (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=breastbius): During this type of biopsy, ultrasound imaging is used to visualize a breast lump. An interventional radiologist will advance a thin needle to the site of the lump using the real-time ultrasound images and remove some tissue so that it can be evaluated under a microscope. The biopsy procedure is usually quick, but it may take a few days before the final tissue analysis (pathology report) is ready.
- stereotactic (x-ray guided) biopsy (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=breastbixr): During this type of biopsy, a digital mammography x-ray machine is used to produce real-time pictures of the breast An interventional radiologist uses these live pictures to guide placement of a needle to the site of the lump and remove tissue samples for further evaluation.
- MRI-guided biopsy (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=breastbimr): An MRI machine is used to produce pictures of the breasts and help the interventional radiologist guide a needle to the site of the lump to remove a tissue sample.
Locate an ACR-accredited provider: To locate a medical imaging or radiation oncology provider in your community, you can search the ACR-accredited facilities database.
Exam costs: The costs for specific medical imaging tests and treatments vary widely across geographic regions. Many—but not all—imaging procedures are covered by insurance. Discuss the fees associated with your medical imaging procedure with your doctor and/or the medical facility staff to get a better understanding of the portions covered by insurance and the possible charges that you will incur.
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Images: Images are shown for illustrative purposes. Do not attempt to draw conclusions or make diagnoses by comparing these images to other medical images, particularly your own. Only qualified physicians should interpret images; the radiologist is the physician expert trained in medical imaging.
This page was reviewed on April 13, 2012