Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) sometimes causes a lump within the breast. This lump is characterized by irregular edges and is hard and immovable. When compared with a benign breast lump, an invasive ductal carcinoma lump feels more anchored, firmer, and harder. Depending on the size of the lump, it may be possible to feel it during a breast examination, and this form of cancer is also known to cause nipples to invert or retract themselves. On mammogram images, invasive ductal carcinoma usually appears as a mass with radiating spikes or finger-like projections around the edges; however, they can also appear as a smooth-edged lump. Masses that show up with the radiating spikes or finger-like projections indicate spiculated margins, which are one of the key features of invasive breast cancers. When a mammogram is done, areas of calcification may be seen on the images. This calcification occurs when old cancer cells collect calcium. When physical symptoms and/or an abnormal mammogram indicate that IDC may be present, the next step is usually a biopsy ordered by your doctor to extract some of the abnormal cells for analysis. These biopsy results cannot only confirm a diagnosis; they can also assist your doctor with determining the best course of treatment for you.
Because the nature of invasive ductal carcinoma is to spread, most doctors will order additional tests to identify any cancer cells that may spread in other areas of the body. Some of the most common tests that are used are:
- Bone scan
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- PET scan
Due to the fact that the lymph nodes are usually the first area where invasive ductal carcinoma spreads, it is standard practice for the auxiliary lymph nodes, which are located in the armpits, to be tested via a surgical procedure to check their status. The lymph nodes above the collarbone may also be examined in a physical exam to identify any swelling or unusual changes. The results of these tests enable your doctor to accurately stage and grade your breast cancer – something that is critical when planning an effective treatment plan.
Diagnosing cancer is more than verifying the presence of cancerous cells. To treat cancer effectively, a number of other factors must be identified and measured to create the treatment plan. You must identify the type of cancer, stage, grade, and hormone receptor status. The method most widely used to obtain a clear breast cancer diagnosis is the biopsy. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, the procedure may be surgical. Other biopsies can be performed with a needle and ultrasound in a doctor’s office. During a biopsy, the doctor performing the procedure will remove either a sampling of cells from the suspicious mass or the entire mass itself. Biopsies can be done by primary care providers, surgeons, or other care providers with experience doing biopsies. This specimen will then be analyzed by a pathologist to confirm the sample is cancerous, identify the type of cancer, and determine if it is an invasive cancer. These factors form a total picture of the cancer, which allows the oncologist to put together the most effective treatment plan.