What to Expect — a Basic Timeframe

A timeframe for what to expect after first being diagnosed with breast cancer, and all the events that evolve from the initial diagnosis to the treatment phase, varies from individual to individual, but the main elements are similar. The following steps demonstrate a framework of the basic steps and timeframe:

  • Abnormality found on mammogram or abnormality found in clinical exam from self-breast exam or by your clinician

  • Doctor visit and examination

  • Radiological imaging tests (ultrasound, MRI) that may be indicated depending on the abnormal findings

  • If imaging result indicates a suspicious area, a breast biopsy will be done to further evaluate it. The type of biopsy varies. If the lump can be felt, a biopsy can be done in an office setting. If the lump cannot be felt, a mammogram-directed technique called stereotactic needle biopsy may be used. In this procedure, an ultrasound or mammogram is used to guide the needle for the biopsy.

    The choice of whether it will be a mammogram-directed stereotactic biopsy or an ultrasound-directed one depends on the type and location of the suspicious area, as well as the preference and the experience of the doctor. Some patients need a surgical excisional biopsy, in which the surgeon removes the lump or suspicious area along with normal-appearing breast tissue, called a margin.

  • A breast biopsy and examination under a microscope, which may take several days, will determine whether the suspicious area is positive for breast cancer. You may ask for a copy of your pathology report after a careful explanation of the report has been given to you by a doctor.

  • After breast cancer has been diagnosed, other tests are used to determine if the cancer has spread and to help determine the best treatment. These tests include chest x-ray, bone scan, CT or CAT scans, MRI, blood tests, complete blood counts (CBC), tumor tests for estrogen and progesterone receptor status, HER-2, breast cancer grade, and stage of breast cancer.

  • A determination may be made as to whether the patient is eligible for clinical trials.

It can take several weeks to a month from the time of the initial discovery and the breast cancer diagnosis, until the specifics of your breast cancer can be determined and a treatment plan that is best for you can be decided by your doctor and yourself.

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