Diagnosing Breast Cancer

This information is useful for adults and older adults
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Why Yale Medicine?
  • We have pathologists who are specialists in breast pathology, conducting high-quality analyses that reduce the possibility of inaccurate results.
  • Our pathologists perform tests for genetic mutations in tumors that indicate when cancers may respond to a targeted therapy.
  • We review complex cases at a daily conference that serves as a built-in second opinion.

Thanks to successful breast cancer awareness campaigns, most women now understand the importance of mammography, and many even know about advanced screening technologies and treatment options. But not so many are aware that a doctor they will never see or talk to—a pathologist—is the one responsible for diagnosing their breast cancer and identifying the treatment that is most likely to be effective.

“We don’t take any of this lightly,” says Malini Harigopal, MD, a Yale Medicine specialist in breast pathology and associate professor of Pathology at Yale School of Medicine. Yale Medicine brings exceptional expertise to the pathological assessment of breast cancer, she says. “In addition to having an excellent pathology team, we have pathologists who look mostly at breast pathology and are becoming more and more specialized in this area,” Dr. Harigopal says.

When malignant cells are found in any part of the breast, breast cancer is diagnosed. The majority of breast cancers begin in the terminal duct lobular units – also known as the milk-producing glands (called lobules) – or the passages through which milk passes on its way to the nipple. Though it happens far less often, cancer can also develop in the stromal (connective) tissues, including the fatty and fibrous connective tissue in the breast. “Breast cancer may present as a mass, calcification or an architectural distortion of the breast,” says Dr. Harigopal.

Clinical Trials

New treatments for many conditions are tested in clinical trials, which ultimately bring lifesaving new drugs and devices to the patients who need them most. By participating in a clinical trial, you may get access to the most advanced treatments for your condition, and help determine their benefits for future patients.