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Learning More About Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Know the Factors That Affect Your Treatment Decisions


Updated October 20, 2011

Your biopsy results tell you just the bare bones of what you need to know about your breast cancer. Your initial diagnosis will be either non-invasive (in-situ) or invasive breast cancer. More information will be needed, before you can decide what treatments will work best for you. To get the most complete diagnosis, your doctor may order additional test for you, such as imaging studies, bloodwork, and in some cases, taking a larger tissue sample for examination. Your comprehensive diagnosis will answer many questions about specific type of breast cancer, tumor size, possible spread of cancer, and what fuels this cancer.

Here's what you will be learning more about, as you and your doctor gather all the pieces of the puzzle before making your treatment plan.

  • Type of Breast Cancer: This is the pathological diagnosis, the name for your particular type of breast cancer -- DCIS, Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, etc.
  • Specimen Description: Anatomical location of the tumor, procedure used to acquire specimen, pathology preservative type
  • Tumor Size: Dimensions of the tumor in centimeters
  • Finding Your Actual Tumor Size: How a tumor is measured in pathology
  • Tumor Grade: Appearance of cancer cells under the micrscope.
  • Surgical Margins: Making sure all the cancer was removed, or if more surgery is needed
  • Ki-67 Proliferation Score: Cells within the tumor (as a percentage) in the biopsy specimen that are actively making another copy of themselves. In terms of aggressiveness, a high number is worse than a low number.
  • Hormone Status: Estrogen and Progesterone Sensitivity, a test to see whether or not your cancer is fueled by these hormones
  • HER2/Neu Status: Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor 2 can affect the growth of some breast tumors, and requires a special drug to treat the cancer
  • Lymph Node Status: Cancer may use your lymph system to spread, so your lymph nodes are checked for metastasis
  • Staging: Staging affects your treatment and predicts your chance of recurrence
  • Metastasis: Breast cancer may use your blood and lymph system to spread beyond the original tumor. Systemic therapies may be recommended
All this information will be rounded up in your final pathology report. At the end of your pathology report will be the Summary, or Diagnosis section. That's where your overall diagnosis will be stated. For more detail about this report, you can read: Understanding and Dissecting Your Pathology Report.

Moving Forward With Your Diagnosis
By now, you may have your complete diagnosis, and are dealing with a flood of emotions and stress. Take time to experience your feelings and process all of this news. Talk with family and friends, as you feel able. Find a support group with people that have a diagnosis similar to yours. Many clinics and hospitals have support groups just for newly diagnosed patients, moderated by survivors and experienced healthcare professionals. Reach out for support -– you don't have to go through this journey alone.

Next Steps in Your Journey:

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