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Diagnosing Noncancerous (Benign) Breast Conditions

How are benign breast conditions and infections diagnosed?

To diagnose a breast condition, your healthcare provider will take your complete health history. Your provider may also:

  • Perform a complete physical exam to:

    • Locate any lump and feel its features (for example, texture, size, and relationship to the skin and chest muscles)

    • Look for changes in the nipples or the skin of the breast

    • Check lymph nodes under the arm and above the collarbones

  • Request imaging tests, including:

    • Diagnostic mammography to look for masses and calcifications

    • Breast ultrasound to further evaluate information from the physical exam or mammography

  • Request a lab microscopic exam of nipple discharge, if there is nipple discharge other than breastmilk

  • Request a ductogram X-ray or MRI ductogram of the nipples, if there is nipple discharge other than breastmilk

  • Consider a hormonal evaluation, if the nipple discharge is milky

  • Request a biopsy of tissue removed from the suspicious area

What are the different types of biopsy?

Image-guided biopsies. Those aided by ultrasound or other imaging techniques, including:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA). A very fine or thin needle is guided into the suspicious area. A small sample of the tissue is removed.

  • Core needle biopsy. A larger needle is guided into the lump to remove a small core (cylinder) of tissue.

Surgical biopsy. A surgical procedure is used to remove all or part of a lump.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
  • Horowitz, Diane, MD