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Diagnosis and assessment at our Breast Care Units

Most patients referred to the Breast Care Units will not have cancer, but it is important to establish the correct diagnosis for each patient quickly, so that appropriate advice and treatment can be given where needed.

If you have a new breast cancer symptom your GP will assess you. GPs diagnose and treat many illnesses themselves. However, they may need to refer you to our dedicated Breast Care Unit for more specialist care.

If you are referred, you will be seen within two weeks. We perform as many of the tests as possible that are needed for cancer diagnosis in one clinic visit.

What will happen at the Breast Care Unit?

After you have reported to the reception, one of our staff will meet you in the waiting room, you will then be taken to a changing room and be asked to remove your clothes from above your waist. It is best to wear separates such as a skirt or trousers and top, rather than a dress.

A gown will be provided for you to wear, you can then put your cardigan/coat/shawl around your shoulders while you wait in a separate waiting area. Several tests may then be performed.

You may have some or all of the following tests:

X-ray of the breasts (mammogram)

This helps us see into the breast. We can spot lumps or other strange patterns in the tissue.

Breast examination

The doctor or practitioner will talk to you about your mammograms, ask you some general questions about your health, and will then examine your breasts.

Ultrasound scan

This uses sound waves to make a picture of inside the breasts. It is harmless and pain free and does not involve any x-ray.

Fine needle biopsy

A very thin needle is used to get cells for testing. This is a minor and safe procedure.

Core needle biopsy

As above, but a bigger needle is used through a small cut in the skin.

Vacuum assisted biopsy

As above, using a much larger needle.

If a needle sample is taken, we will make an appointment for you to receive your results, usually within 2 weeks.


Tissue samples are sent to a tissue expert (pathologist) for examination under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm (without doubt) the presence of cancer.

When will I get the results?

The doctor or practitioner will tell you the results of any mammograms and ultrasound scans that you may have had done at the assessment clinic. If a needle sample is taken, we will make an appointment for you to receive your results, usually this is within 2 weeks.

How long will I be at the clinic?

Your appointment may take between 1 to 3 hours. Friends and relatives are asked to wait in the main waiting area while patients wait for their tests in the clinic. This is to respect the privacy of other patients undressed and wearing hospital gowns. However, you may request your friend or relative to accompany you when it’s your turn to see the doctor.