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Breast cancer: Basic terms

Here is an overview of several basic terms, which are often used by doctors who perform breast examination.

Breast cancer is a malignant (cancerous) growth that begins in the tissues of the breast. The main types of breast cancer are ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, medullary carcinoma, and Paget’s disease of the nipple.

Mamography, mammogram. A mammogram is a low-dose x-ray of the breast tissue. You will need to take off the clothes from the top part of your body, including your bra. The radiographer will then position you so that the breast is against the x-ray machine and gently but firmly compressed with a flat, clear, plastic plate. Two mammograms (from different angles) are taken of each breast. The breast tissue needs to be pressed a bit in order to keep the breast still and to get a clear picture. Most women find this uncomfortable and for some women it is painful for a short time. You will need to stay still for less than a minute while the picture is taken. Mammograms are usually used for women over the age of 45. In younger women the breast tissue is more dense, which can make it difficult to detect any changes on the mammogram.




Ultrasound scanner, ultrasound imaging. An ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture of the breast tissue. Ultrasound can often tell whether a lump is solid (made of cells) or is a fluid-filled cyst. It can also often tell whether a solid lump is likely to be benign or malignant. You will be asked to take off the clothes from the upper part of your body and lie down on a couch. An ultrasound specialist will then put gel onto the breast and gently rub a small microphone-like device over the affected area. This shows a picture of the internal tissue of the breast on a screen. Ultrasound is painless and only takes a few minutes.




Early detection, screening. Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment. The earlier a breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of successful treatment. In the Czech Republic, all women above the age of 45 are offered mammograms (breast x-rays) every two years, as part of a national breast screening programme. This aims to detect breast cancers early, so that there is a high chance of successful treatment.

Benign finding means not cancerous, not malignant. The main types of benign breast problems are fibroadenomas and fibrocystic change.

Malignant finding is a medical term used to describe a severe and progressively worsening disease.


Last updated on 27 July 2009