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a map of discovering breast cancer

The Discovery Journey of Breast Cancer

Your loved one’s journey through breast cancer begins when the doctor confirms the discovery of cancer cells. 

The journey of discovery is like hearing the first “Red Alert” of the invasion of breast cancer into her body and health.

The Discovery process shows the typical paths that she will take as she learns about her breast cancer, through medical exams, tests and the doctor’s prognosis.

How Breast Cancer is Discovered

If an abnormal area is found during a clinical breast exam or with a mammogram, the doctor may order other imaging tests:

• Ultrasound: A woman with a lump or other breast change may have an ultrasound test

An ultrasound device sends out sound waves that bounce off breast tissues. A computer uses the echoes to create a picture. 

The picture may show whether a lump is solid, filled with fluid (a cyst), or a mixture of both.  Cysts usually are not cancer. But a solid lump may be cancerous.

 • MRIMRI uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer that scans a woman’s chest and makes detailed images of breast tissue. These images can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue.

Click here to read more about experimental imaging procedures.


A biopsy is the removal of breast tissue to look for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only definite way to tell if cancer is present.

Your loved one may need to have a biopsy if an abnormal area is found. 

An abnormal area may be felt during a clinical breast exam but not seen on a mammogram. Your loved one’s doctor may refer her to a surgeon for a biopsy. Click here to read more about breast cancer biopsies.

Lab Tests with Breast Tissue

If your loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, her doctor may order
special lab tests on the breast tissue that was removed. Click on this link to read more about lab tests for breast cancer.

The Value of a Second Opinion

Before starting treatment, your loved one might want a second opinion from another doctor about her diagnosis and treatment plan. 

Some women worry that their doctor will be offended if they ask for a second opinion. 

Many health insurance companies will pay for a second opinion if your loved one or her doctor requests it. Some companies require a second opinion. 

If your loved one gets a second opinion, that doctor may agree with her first doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan, or the second doctor may offer more options.

Either way, your loved one will have more information and perhaps a greater sense of control. 

She may also feel more confident about the decisions she makes, knowing that she has looked carefully at her options.

There may be a delay in treatment when getting a second opinion.

It’s a good idea to discuss a possible delay with her doctor. 

Some women with severe breast cancer need treatment right away.

Her Treatment Plan for Breast Cancer – and Your Role in It

After the pathology reports are in, your loved one’s physician will be able to determine what happens next. 

If no cancer cells are found, the lump or mass is designated “benign.” 

Her doctor may prescribe more frequent monitoring, such as mammograms every six months instead of once a year.

If cancer cells are found, the physician will convey that news to your loved one. Using the pathology reports of the biopsy, the doctor will share the stage of breast cancer. 

Her doctors and health professionals create a treatment plan to provide professional medical care that treats the cancer.

Discovering breast cancer is a huge shock to most women. 

How can you help and provide support? 

The first step is understand the emotions she is feeling. Click on the underlined text to learn more about the emotions on the breast cancer journey.