Cancer (Oncology)

Diagnosis of Breast Cancer

In some cases, women find a lump during self-exams or a physician discovers a lump during a clinical exam. Mammography, however, can detect evidence of a breast problem when no palpable lump exists.

To determine if cancer is present, a breast imaging radiologist or a surgeon performs a biopsy to remove cells from the suspicious area. A pathologist examines the tissue for the existence of cancer cells.

Biopsy samples also are examined for the presence of receptors for hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. If these hormones exist, they are referred to as ER-positive or PR-positive. Cancers with these receptors are more likely to respond to hormone therapy.

There are several types of biopsies.

Ultrasound Guided Cyst Aspiration  
A breast imaging radiologist inserts a needle into the cyst to retrieve a sample of fluid. This outpatient procedure, performed under local anesthesia, can help determine if a lump is a cyst or a solid mass.

Ultrasound Guided Core Biopsy
This outpatient procedure, which involves only a puncture wound to insert a needle, may spare some women from having a surgical biopsy. Guided by ultrasound, the breast imaging radiologist takes small slivers of tissue from the solid breast lesion for analysis. The procedure is done with local anesthesia.

Stereotactic Core Needle Biopsy
This outpatient procedure is usually performed to examine indeterminate calcifications seen on a mammogram. It involves only a puncture wound that requires no stitches, and is done under local anesthesia.Using digital mammography as guidance, the breast imaging radiologist removes small slivers of tissue containing the calcifications for analysis.

Magnetic Resonance (MR) Guided Core Needle Biopsy
Using an MRI technology as guidance, the breast imaging radiologist removes small slivers of abnormal tissue for analysis. This outpatient procedure is conducted under local anesthesia. It involves a puncture wound that requires no stitches.

Surgical Biopsy
Some women may need surgery (involving light anesthesia) to remove all or part of the lump to examine for cancer cells.  This is performed by a breast surgeon.

Needle Localization
Immediately before breast surgery, a breast imaging radiologist inserts a wire to mark the location of non-palpable breast abnormalities. This enables surgeons to precisely locate the abnormality during surgery. The wire is removed during surgery.

Imaging Tests
Additional imaging tests may be used to determine the spread of cancer and to develop an individualized treatment plan. These tests include:
  • X-ray
  • Bone scan
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
For a complete list of imaging procedures available at Greenwich Hospital, visit Radiology Services >>

Learn more about diagnoses for breast cancer:
Patient Education Fact Sheets >>
Health Library >>


  • Appointments: 203-863-3031

  • General Questions: 203-863-3711

  • Copies of Images: 203-863-4330

  • Copies of Reports: 203-863-3345


  • Monday to Friday 8am-8:40pm 
  • Saturday 8am-11:40am
  • Women can schedule a screening mammogram during any of these hours.
  • Diagnostic mammograms are only available Monday to Friday.
  • Patients are referred to the Breast Center by their gynecologist or primary care physicians.