One of the most common and devastating illnesses impacting women globally is breast cancer. To improve survival rates and identify the best course of treatment, early diagnosis and precise staging are crucial. We will explore the breast cancer diagnosis and staging in this blog, covering the many phases of the disease, the importance of imaging tests, the diagnostic procedure, and the critical function of biopsies. In the fight against breast cancer, it is critical for patients and medical professionals to comprehend these factors.

Breast Cancer Diagnosis Process

Breast cancer diagnosis is a multi-step process that needs a careful assessment by a medical expert. Usually, it entails the following actions:

  1. Clinical Breast Examination: A clinical breast examination is typically the first step. A medical professional, typically a doctor or nurse, looks for any indications of anomalies on the breasts and surrounding tissue. This examination assists in locating any outward indicators, such as skin dimpling, breast enlargement or reduction in form, lumps, or discharge from the nipples.
  2. Mammography: Mammography is one of the most widely used methods for breast cancer screening. The breast is crushed between two plates during a mammography in order to produce X-ray images. Breast tumours can be found by mammography early on, frequently even before they are palpable.
  3. Breast Ultrasound: If the results of a mammogram are unclear, one may choose to have a breast ultrasound. Ultrasound can assist in differentiating between solid tumours and fluid-filled cysts by using sound waves to make pictures of breast tissue.
  4. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI is a very sensitive imaging method that produces finely detailed images of the breast by combining radio waves and magnetic fields. It is particularly helpful when there is a significant risk of breast cancer or when determining the severity of the illness in recently diagnosed cases.

Biopsy for Breast Cancer

The next important step is a biopsy if any of the results from the initial screening tests point to the possibility of breast cancer or if a clinical examination reveals any questionable findings. The gold standard for identifying breast cancer and comprehending its unique features is a biopsy. Breast biopsies come in a variety of forms:

  1. Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA): FNA entails taking a little sample of cells from a breast region that appears suspicious using a thin, hollow needle. Usually, it is applied to very tiny or non-palpable lesions.
  2. Core Needle Biopsy (CNB): A bigger, hollow needle is used in a core needle biopsy (CNB) to remove a larger sample of breast tissue. When a solid mass is found, this approach is frequently employed since it is more precise.
  3. Vacuum-Assisted Biopsy: This method is comparable to CNB in that it extracts several tissue samples with a single needle insertion by means of a vacuum-powered apparatus. When collecting samples from microcalcifications, it is especially helpful.
  4. Surgical Biopsy: A surgical biopsy may be carried out if the above mentioned techniques are ineffective or if a larger tissue sample is required. It entails removing the whole lump or a worrisome breast tissue portion.

Following collection, the biopsy sample is transferred to a pathology lab, where a pathologist uses a microscope to analyse the tissue. The pathologist can identify the kind, grade, and hormone receptor status of breast cancer in addition to determining whether the disease is present. Treatment choices are influenced by these variables.

Stages of Breast Cancer

Determining the stage of breast cancer is an essential step in selecting the best course of treatment and making an accurate prognosis. The TNM method, in which T stands for tumour, N for nodes, and M for metastasis, is commonly used to stage breast cancer. Let’s examine what each part represents in detail:

  1. T (Tumor): The size and scope of the main tumour are described by the T stage. T0 indicates no indication of a primary tumour, while T4 indicates a substantial or extensive tumour. Subcategories like Tis (ductal carcinoma in situ) and T1, T2, and T3 for different tumour sizes offer more details.
  2. N (Nodes): If cancer has spread to neighbouring lymph nodes, it is indicated by the N stage. Small, bean-shaped structures called lymph nodes aid in the immune system’s defence against infections. From N0 (no involvement of lymph nodes) to N3 (severe involvement of lymph nodes), the N stage is categorised.
  3. M (Metastasis): The M stage indicates whether the cancer has progressed to distant organs such the brain, liver, lungs, or bones. Whereas M1 denotes the existence of metastatic malignancy, M0 denotes the absence of distant metastases.

An overall stage is determined by assessing the T, N, and M stages. Breast cancer is classified into four stages, ranging from 0 to IV. Breast cancer at stage 0 (Tis) is non-invasive, whereas stages I through IV indicate varying degrees of aggressiveness and extent of the disease.

Imaging Tests for Breast Cancer

Imaging studies, which offer a more thorough image of the tumour and its environs, are crucial in the diagnosis and staging of breast cancer. The following are a few typical imaging techniques used to assess breast cancer:

  1. Mammography: As was already noted, mammography is a frequently used method of breast cancer screening. It makes early tumour detection possible by using X-rays to provide detailed images of the breast tissue.
  2. Breast Ultrasound: Sound waves are used in ultrasound imaging to produce images of the breast. It is useful in differentiating between cysts filled with fluid and solid structures like tumours. It is helpful in directing breast biopsies as well.
  3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): When more than one tumour is suspected or a patient is at high risk of developing breast cancer, breast MRI is frequently utilised to determine the extent of the disease. It offers intricate pictures of the breast tissue.
  4. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan: PET (positron emission tomography) scans are helpful for determining the extent of breast cancer, especially when it comes to finding metastases in other organs. After injecting a little quantity of radioactive material into the patient’s body, a scanner produces pictures that highlight regions with increased metabolic activity, which are frequently suggestive of cancer.
  5. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: CT scans can be performed to assess the degree of breast cancer and if it has migrated to the lungs, chest wall, or other surrounding structures. This method of imaging produces cross-sectional images for detailed examination.
  6. Chest X-ray: Since the lungs are frequently the site of breast cancer metastases, a chest X-ray may be requested to look for lung metastases.
  7. Bone Scan: A bone scan may be carried out to determine whether breast cancer has spread to the bones. After a little dose of radioactive material is delivered into the bloodstream, its buildup in the bones is detected by a specialised camera.


Crucial phases in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer are diagnostic and staging. In order to identify breast cancer at an early stage when it is most curable, early identification through screening, clinical breast examination, and imaging studies is essential. Conversely, biopsies help identify the precise features of the cancer and offer a conclusive diagnosis.

Based on the TNM system, staging helps determine the best course of treatment and offers important prognostic information. It plays a crucial role in formulating the best possible treatment plan for each patient.

Imaging scans are useful instruments for evaluating breast cancer because they help doctors see the disease’s spread and spot possible metastases. Combining the staging and diagnostic procedures allows medical teams to create individualised treatment programmes with the highest possibilities of success.

Seek frequent checkups and contact with healthcare specialists if you have any concerns or risk factors for breast cancer. The prognosis for people with breast cancer is greatly improved by early identification and prompt care.