Tests and diagnostic procedures

Tests and diagnostic procedures may be required before you can be given a definitive diagnosis. Our service offers a wide range of biopsy procedures (medical tests which sample cells or tissues for examination) and staff have been specifically trained to either perform or assist in these techniques.

Digital mammograms
This is a low dose X-ray examination of the breast which involves compression of the whole breast between two plates and lasts for only a few seconds.

Ultrasound scan
This is similar to the ultrasound used for pregnant women. It is a painless examination of the breast using sound waves instead of X-rays. The examination is performed whilst you are lying down, some jelly is applied to the skin and a probe passed over the breast to produce a picture.

MRI scan
A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan is required for some groups of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and is also used in a number of other clinical situations, such as screening certain women who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer. It produces detailed images of the breast to help diagnosis.

Needle (core) biopsy
The small gauge needle biopsy is one procedure which allows a small sample of tissue to be retrieved from the breast tissue directed by X-ray or ultrasound guidance. This can be completed at the time of your attendance at a clinic under local anaesthetic (so you are awake).

Vacuum assisted core biopsy
The Vacora biopsy is a procedure carried out either at the time of your attendance or as a booked appointment, using local anaesthetic. This biopsy retrieves tissue as with the needle biopsy but is vacuum assisted.

Ultrasound techniques
Extensive use is made of vacuum-assisted biopsy (VAB) as an alternative to surgical removal for benign lumps in the breast. VAB is performed in the Breast Unit under local anaesthetic, the whole procedure only taking 30 to 40 minutes. This technique has been used in Bolton for over ten years with excellent results and is not widely available elsewhere in the North West.

Mammotome procedure
This procedure is generally a booked procedure. It can be used for diagnosis but also for therapeutic reasons to remove a non-cancerous lump. This is carried out using local anaesthetic.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB)
The sentinel node in the armpit is the first node that lymph fluid from the breast drains to. An SLNB involves finding the sentinel node, removing it and then testing it for cancer cells to eliminate spread of disease.

Fine needle aspiration
A thin, hollow needle is used to take a small sample of breast tissue which will be examined.

Nipple smear
If liquid is being discharged from the nipple then this can be collected and examined.

Punch biopsy
A small piece of the skin of the breast is removed under local anaesthetic.


Following your test, you will be given an appointment to return for your results within seven to ten days. All cases are discussed by a team of experts who are all specialists related to the diagnosis or treatment of breast disease and further investigations and treatments are agreed.

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