What is the triple assessment algorithm for breast cancer diagnosis?

Updated: Feb 04, 2021
  • Author: Pavani Chalasani, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: John V Kiluk, MD, FACS  more...
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Breast cancer evaluation should be an ordered inquiry that begins with symptoms and a general clinical history. This is followed by a sequence that has become formalized as triple assessment, which includes the following components:

  • Clinical examination
  • Imaging (usually mammography, ultrasonography, or both)
  • Needle biopsy

This approach naturally lends itself to a gradually increasing degree of invasiveness, so that a diagnosis can be obtained with the minimum degree of invasiveness and, consequently, the minimum amount of discomfort to the patient. Because the more invasive investigations also tend to be the most expensive, this approach is usually the most economical.

The aims of evaluation of a breast lesion are to judge whether surgery is required and, if so, to plan the most appropriate surgery. The ultimate goal of surgery is to achieve the most appropriate degree of breast conservation while minimizing the need for reoperation.

Breast cancer is often first detected as an abnormality on a mammogram before it is felt by the patient or healthcare provider. Mammographic features suggestive of malignancy include asymmetry, microcalcifications, and a mass or architectural distortion. If any of these features are identified, diagnostic mammography along with breast ultrasonography should be performed before a biopsy is obtained. In certain cases, breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be warranted.

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