Diagnosing Breast Cancer

Macmillan Cancer Support

Women who have symptoms usually begin by seeing their GP. They will examine you and refer you to a breast clinic. You should get an appointment within 2 weeks.

Some women are referred through the NHS breast screening programme. Breast screening is a way of finding breast cancer at an early stage, when it is too small to be felt or seen.

At the breast clinic

You will see a specialist breast doctor or a nurse practitioner. You may also see a breast care nurse. They usually ask you if:

  • you have had any other breast problems
  • you have a family history of breast cancer.

The doctor or nurse will examine your breasts and the lymph nodes in your armpits and around your neck.


After your examination, your doctor or nurse will tell you what tests you need:

  • Mammogram
  • Breast ultrasound
  • Breast biopsy

You may have many of these tests on the same day as well as getting the results. But you might have to wait up to 2 weeks for some results. We have more information on waiting for test results.

Further tests after diagnosis

If the biopsy results show there are breast cancer cells, you will need further tests. You may have the following tests to check your general health:

  • Blood test - you have a blood test to check your general health and how well your kidneys and liver are working
  • Chest x-ray - you may have tests to find out more about the size of the cancer, or if it has spread anywhere else in the body (its stage)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan - an MRI scan uses magnetism to build up detailed pictures of your body. It may be done to find out the size of the cancer and help decide on the operation you have.
  • CT scan
  • Bone scan

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