Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Sometimes, routine screenings detect lumps or masses of abnormal cells. Finding a lump, either during a screening mammogram or during a self-exam, doesn’t automatically mean you have breast cancer. But it does mean we need to use additional tests to find out what’s going on.

Diagnostic tools we use

At the Breast Center, we use state-of-the-art tools to diagnose breast cancer. We are the only center in the Napa Valley where women have access to so many leading-edge technologies under one roof. Housing all these services in one location offers more convenience and efficiency.

We use computer-aided detection (CAD) to interpret images and detect abnormalities. Our advanced diagnostic tools include:

  • Diagnostic mammograms: Mammograms use low-dose X-rays to view your breast tissue. Women typically have screening mammograms to look for lumps or abnormal masses of tissue. A diagnostic mammogram is also a low-dose X-ray; however, we use different views during a diagnostic mammogram so that we can get an even more detailed image of your breast.
  • Breast ultrasound: Ultrasounds use sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. We may use ultrasounds to determine whether a mass of tissue is a fluid-filled cyst or a solid mass. Cysts are very unlikely to be cancer, although they may look similar to other suspicious masses on a mammogram.
  • Breast MRI: MRIs involve laying in a special, tube-shaped machine that uses magnets and radio waves to take images from multiple angles. We may use a breast MRI to see if cancer has spread or to check for abnormal masses in your opposite breast. If you need a breast MRI, we offer this technology in the hospital at Adventist Health St. Helena.
  • Stereotactic breast biopsy: In the past, when doctors detected a lump, they would have to perform surgery just to check if it was cancer. Now, thanks to advanced technology, we can perform a small, minimally invasive procedure in the Breast Center. During this biopsy, we use mammograms to pinpoint suspicious masses in your breast tissue. Then, we remove a small piece of breast tissue about the size of a piece of pencil lead. This approach offers accuracy rates of 99%, while avoiding unnecessary invasive surgery.
  • Core needle biopsy: This biopsy technique uses a thin needle to remove a tissue sample from your breast. We use imaging techniques that use soundwaves (ultrasound-guided biopsy) to locate where to take this tissue sample from. Typically, we take a few small samples to compare and analyze whether disease is present.
  • Sentinel lymph node dissection: If we find breast cancer, it’s important to also determine if cancer has spread to other parts of your body. With this technique we perform a small operation to check for cancer in your sentinel lymph nodes. This approach allows us to avoid unnecessary operations and complications while detecting if cancer has spread with incredibly high degrees of accuracy.

What to expect when you need diagnostic imaging

If you need further testing, we often start with a diagnostic mammogram. When you come to the Breast Center for this mammogram, you meet with our expert breast radiologist. These radiologists are doctors who specialize in breast imaging.

After your mammogram, our radiologist discusses the results with you on the same day. You should expect to spend up to a few hours at the Breast Center. If you need additional tests, such as a biopsy, we schedule that diagnostic appointment before you leave the center.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, we use advanced treatments to offer you the best chances for an optimal outcome. Our dedicated breast patient navigator, along with our team of oncologists, breast surgeons, and radiologists supports you through all treatment and surgery options.

Contact us

To learn more about the Breast Center at Adventist Health St. Helena, please call 707-963-1912.