Breast cancer

Having tests

Breast cancer

Having tests

Not all breast symptoms are caused by cancer. Your GP or specialist will send you for tests to check what is causing your symptoms.

Your doctors should explain why you are having the tests and what they involve.

What you need to know

Reasons for tests

Your GP will examine you and send you for tests before you see a specialist. These initial tests are to see if your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something else.

If you do have a cancer, the specialist you see will probably send you for tests to find out more about it. This includes finding out the type of cells the cancer started in and whether it has spread.

Tests for breast cancer

Tests used to examine the breasts for cancer include:

  • mammogram 
  • ultrasound examination 
  • MRI scan.

Once you have a diagnosis of breast cancer, you may need other tests to see whether it has spread to other parts of the body.

Biopsies for breast cancer

One test that is done for many cancers is a biopsy. This is when a small piece of tissue is taken from the lump or area that might be a cancer. A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope to see if it is a cancer.

There are several different types of biopsy.

Genomic testing in breast cancer

Genomic testing is carried out on a sample of cancer tissue. It measures how active certain genes are in the cancer. Genomic testing is not the same as genetic testing which is used to identify abnormal genes that may run in families. 

Genomic testing can help doctors to work out how likely the cancer is to grow or come back. It can also help them predict how helpful different treatments may be. 

The best-known genomic test is the Oncotype DX test. At present, this test is not available in Australia. Cancer samples are sent to the USA for testing. The test can cost about $4,000 and there is no rebate for it. 

Genomic testing is only suitable for some types of breast cancers. You may want to talk to your doctor about this.

What to ask or talk about

Preparing for tests

Going for tests can make some people nervous, but knowing what to expect can help.

Your GP or specialist should tell you why you need each test and what it involves. Use our checklists to help you know what to ask.

Sometimes you need to contact the place where you are having the test for more information. This can include how to prepare for the test, how much it will cost and what you will get back from Medicare and your private health fund.

Ask how long it will take before you hear the results of the test.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Getting test results

It is normal to feel anxious when you are waiting for test results. 

Your GP or specialist should tell you when the results will be ready and how you will find out about them. Usually you need to make an appointment to get the results.

It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go for this appointment.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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