Breast Cancer Guide: When Cancer Is Found

The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma. It begins in the lining of the ducts. Another type, called lobular carcinoma, arises in the lobules. When cancer is found, the pathologist can tell what kind of cancer it is (whether it began in a duct or a lobule) and whether it is invasive (has invaded nearby tissues in the breast).

Special lab tests of the tissue help the doctor learn more about the cancer. For example, hormone receptor tests can help determine whether hormones help the cancer to grow. If test results show that hormones do affect the cancer’s growth (a positive test result), the cancer is likely to respond to hormonal therapy. This therapy deprives the cancer cells of estrogen. More information about hormonal therapy can be found in the “Planning Treatment” section.

Other tests are sometimes done to help the doctor predict whether the cancer is likely to progress. For example, the doctor may order x-rays and lab tests. Sometimes a sample of breast tissue is checked for a gene that is associated with a higher risk that the breast cancer will come back. The doctor may also order special exams of the bones, liver, or lungs because breast cancer may spread to these areas.

If the diagnosis is breast cancer, a woman may want to ask these questions:

  • What kind of breast cancer do I have?

  • What did the hormone receptor test show? What other lab tests were done on the tumor tissue, and what did they show?

  • How will you determine whether the disease has spread?

  • How will this information help in deciding what type of treatment or further tests will be best for me?

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