Receiving a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Breast cancer starts in the cells of breasts. Confirming a diagnosis of cancer involves a number of tests and scans that may include mammography, ultrasound, MRI and biopsy. During a biopsy, a tissue sample is taken and sent to a lab to find out if cancer cells are present or not.

You may be referred to our North York General Hospital’s Medical Imaging Services or our BMO Breast Diagnostic Clinic (BDC) where a health care team, including a surgeon will meet with you. At the BDC you will be asked to fill in a detailed profile of your personal and medical history. Please come prepared with the knowledge of the history of cancer in your family.

See all videos in the Breast Cancer Care Integrated Care Collaborative Series.

In the Breast Diagnostic Clinic, your team of health care professionals engage with you to keep you informed every step of the way.

A genetic assessment may be recommended depending on your personal and family history and other risk factors.

For additional resources about diagnosing breast cancer please visit the Canadian Cancer Society.

Medical imaging

North York General Hospital offers a variety of imaging procedures to diagnose breast cancer. These include:

  • mammography
  • ultrasound
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

Learn more about North York General’s Medical Imaging Services.


A biopsy is a procedure where breast tissue is removed and examined by a pathologist to determine whether cancerous cells are present. There are several different types of biopsies. A radiologist or surgeon can use ultrasound, mammography or MRI to guide a biopsy ensuring the correct area is sampled.

Biopsies are performed at both the Branson and General sites of North York General Hospital by a radiologist or surgeon.


Pathology is the process of examining breast tissue to see whether it is cancerous. If cancer is found, the pathology report will help determine treatment options. The pathology report describes the characteristics of the cancer that was found. These include the size of the tumour, hormone levels, HER2 status, and lymph node involvement.

Your surgeon or medical oncologist will discuss the results in the pathology report with you and your family.

Genetic Assessment and Counselling

Most cases of breast cancer are not hereditary. However, about 5 to 10% of cases appear to have a hereditary connection. Through genetic counselling and risk assessment we aim to identify people with an increased risk for inherited cancer. Certain genes, when mutated (a change in the DNA of a gene), put us at a higher risk for cancer. These genes are inherited from our parents and can be passed on to our children.

A genetic risk assessment helps to determine whether someone is eligible for genetic testing. This information may help individuals and their care providers determine the best treatment options. If you have a family history of breast cancer you may wish to consider a referral for a genetic risk assessment.

Genetic risk assessment and counselling is available at The Charlotte and Lewis Steinberg Familial Breast and Ovarian Cancer Clinic in Unit E8, 2 Champagne Dr Toronto ON, M3J 2C5. Please have your doctor fax a referral form to the clinic.