Tests to diagnose

If you have breast symptoms, your GP usually refers you to a breast clinic. It might be a one stop clinic where you have several tests during one visit (a triple asessment). The tests can diagnose breast cancer and other breast conditions. You have an examination of your breast and an ultrasound scan and breast x-ray (mammogram). If these tests show an abnormal area, a doctor or nurse takes a sample of tissue (a biopsy). They send it to the laboratory for testing. You might also have other tests.


A mammogram is an x-ray of your breasts. This test is used to help diagnose breast cancer and other breast conditions. 

Breast ultrasound

A breast ultrasound scan uses sound waves to create a picture of the breast tissue. It can help to diagnose breast cancer and other breast conditions.

Fine needle aspiration

A fine needle aspirate takes a sample of cells or fluid from the breast to look at under the microscope. 

Needle biopsy

A needle biopsy of the breast is a way of taking a sample of breast tissue to look at under the microscope. This test is also called a core needle biopsy.

Punch biopsy

A punch biopsy takes a sample of cells from the skin of the breast to look at under the microscope.

Vacuum assisted biopsy

A vacuum assisted biopsy uses a special needle attached to a vacuum device to take samples of breast tissue for examination.

Wire guided excision biopsy

Wire guided excision biopsy means putting a thin wire into an abnormal area of breast tissue. This pinpoints an area to be removed with surgery. 

Breast MRI scan

A breast MRI scan can show changes in the breast tissue by using magnetism and radio waves to create pictures.

Tests on your breast cancer cells

There are tests that show how well hormone therapy or targeted cancer drugs are likely to work for breast cancers. Find out more about these tests. 

Last reviewed: 
29 Sep 2020
Next review due: 
29 Sep 2023
Coronavirus and cancer

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