What imaging tests can detect breast cancer?

Imaging tests to detect breast cancer include mammograms and ultrasound. Digital images on mammograms and ultrasound help detect carcinomas and ductal carcinoma in situs. Abnormal calcifications are seen in very high detail. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is being used more frequently in the evaluation of breast neoplasms.

Most mammographic abnormalities can be biopsied. They can be localized mammographically, and the lesions can be pinpointed and biopsied to determine the true nature of the lesion.
Visualizing your breast tissue is a vital component to detecting and evaluating the extent of breast cancer. Examples of procedures used include:
  • Mammography: Mammography is the primary tool used in breast cancer diagnosis. While its value is important, other diagnostic methods sometimes help physicians pinpoint and characterize breast cancer more precisely.
  • Breast Ultrasound: Ultrasound does not employ radiation to create clinically useful images of breast tissue. It's often used to position biopsy needles precisely and to determine if abnormalities, found on a mammogram, are solid or fluid-filled.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to image your breast without exposure to radiation. MRI may be used with mammography for improved breast cancer detection, to determine the extent of the disease and to monitor breast cancer therapy. MRI can also capture improved images if you have dense breast tissue or breast implants.
  • PET/CT: The combination of positron emission tomography (PET) with computed tomography (CT) represents the frontier of diagnostic cancer imaging. The technology provides physicians with two sets of information from a single scan: the anatomical data yielded by a CT scan and the metabolic information provided by PET. This technology is helpful in localizing smaller cancers and in defining areas where breast cancers have metastasized.
  • Ductoscopy: A procedure that involves inserting a very small video scope into your breast, ductoscopy allows physicians to examine the affected duct in real time and to biopsy suspicious areas. This can be done to evaluate you if you're at high risk for breast cancer, with precancerous or cancerous cells. Physicians use ductoscopy when atypical cells have been detected in your milk ducts (where 90 percent of breast cancers begin). It's also used to evaluate women with abnormal nipple discharge whereby ductal lavage and visualization of the duct can be done at the same time.
In addition to mammography and ultrasound, the following imaging tests are used to diagnose breast cancer:
  • MRI: MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technology uses radiofrequency waves to create detailed cross-sectional images of the breasts. MRI can help doctors identify tumors that may have been missed by a mammogram.
  • PET/CT scan: This test merges two imaging technologies, positron emission tomography (PET) and computed tomography (CT), into one machine to create detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body. When combined into one singular image, doctors can identify abnormal activity and know precisely where this activity is taking place.
  • Miraluma breast imaging: This nuclear medicine test helps doctors produce striking pictures of malignant lesions in the midst of dense, fibrous breast tissue. This non-invasive option can help reduce the number of breast biopsies needed and does not involve compressing your breasts as in a mammogram.
  • Bone scan: This scan can reveal if the cancer has spread to the bone from the breast. In a bone scan, a small dose of radioactive material is injected into a blood vessel, where it travels through the bloodstream. The material then gathers in the bones and is detected by a scanner through nuclear imaging.

Continue Learning about Breast Cancer Diagnosis

What questions should I ask about my initial diagnosis of breast cancer?
If you have an initial diagnosis of breast cancer, you may want to ask your doctor the following que...
More Answers
What should I expect during digital breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography)?
St. David’s HealthCareSt. David’s HealthCare
During digital breast tomosynthesis (3D mammography), the mammogram is similar to a traditional (2D)...
More Answers
Are There Future Breast Cancer Therapies with Potential?
Are There Future Breast Cancer Therapies with Potential?
Lowering Breast Cancer Risk and Improving Treatment
Lowering Breast Cancer Risk and Improving Treatment

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.