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Breast Cancer Diagnostic Tools and Tests

Female Physician talking to WomanThe following tests and imaging studies may be ordered if your doctor believes you may have breast cancer:

Digital Mammogram, Including 3D Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (DBT)

Digital breast tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, is a technique using X-rays to produce a three dimensional picture of the breast. The result or output is a series of image "slices" through the breast that can be viewed as individual pictures.

A 3D mammography often clarifies whether a lump is a true abnormality or an overlap of normal structures. Moreover, it may be able to help spot abnormal tissues that otherwise would be hard or impossible to see.

Breast MRI

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans present detailed images of the breast and help Penn cancer specialists accurately diagnose and locate breast tumors.

MRI scans of the breast use radio waves and strong magnets. During the scan, the energy from the radio waves is absorbed and then released in a pattern formed by the type of body tissue and by certain diseases. A computer translates the pattern into a very detailed image of the breast.

Breast Ultrasound

Ultrasound uses sound waves, instead of radiation, to examine the breast.

Your doctor might order an ultrasound if there is a question about a mass or other finding on a mammogram or MRI that needs to be evaluated further.

PET or CT Scan

A positron emission tomography (PET) or computed tomography (CT) scan may be performed to learn if cancer cells are present elsewhere in the body, such as in the bones, lungs or brain.

Diagnostic Surgery or Biopsy

A biopsy is a diagnostic procedure in which a tiny bit of the breast tumor is removed and examined under a microscope to determine if it is cancerous.

There are several different types of biopsies. Learn more about each type of biopsy we use to diagnose breast cancer

Female Scientist With Microscope in Lab

Breast Biopsy

At Penn Medicine, we perform many different types of biopsies — diagnostic procedures that involve removing a piece of breast tissue and examining it — to diagnose breast cancer and determine how advanced it is.