are several ways to do a breast biopsy. The sample of breast tissue will be looked
at under a microscope to check for cancer cells.
biopsy. Your doctor inserts a thin needle into a lump and removes a sample of
cells or fluid.
Core needle biopsy. Your doctor inserts a needle with
a special tip and removes a sample of breast tissue about the size of a grain of rice.
core biopsy. This is done with a probe that uses a gentle vacuum to remove a small
sample of breast tissue. The single small cut doesn't require stitches and leaves
a very small scar.
Open (surgical) biopsy. Your doctor will make a
small cut in the skin and breast tissue to remove part or all of a lump. This may
be done as a first step to check a lump or if a needle biopsy doesn't provide enough
If needed, your doctor may use ultrasound or MRI to guide
the biopsy needle. Or your doctor may use a computer to locate the exact spot for
the biopsy sample from mammograms that have been taken from two angles (stereotactic
needle biopsy). A fine wire, clip, or marker also may be used to mark the site.
It Is Done
A breast biopsy checks to see if a breast lump or a suspicious area
seen on a mammogram is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). Testing a biopsy
sample is the only reliable way to find out if cancer cells are present.
Tell your doctor if you:
Are taking any medicines or
supplements (such as vitamins or herbal remedies).
You will be asked to sign a consent form that says
you understand the risks of the test and agree to have it done.
Talk to your
doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the biopsy, its risks, how
it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance
of the biopsy, fill out the medical test information form(What is a
If you take
a blood thinner, you will probably need to stop taking it for a week before the biopsy.
a breast biopsy is to be done under local anesthesia, you do not need to do anything
else to prepare for the biopsy.
If the biopsy is to be done under general anesthesia, follow the instructions
exactly about when to stop eating and drinking, or your surgery may be canceled. If
your doctor has instructed you to take your medicines on the day of surgery, do so
using only a sip of water. An intravenous line (IV) will be put in your arm,
and a sedative medicine will be given about an hour
before the biopsy. Arrange for someone to drive you home if you will be having general
anesthesia or are going to be given a sedative.
Other tests, such as blood tests,
may be done before your breast biopsy.
You will take
off your clothing above the waist. A paper or cloth gown will cover your shoulders.
The biopsy will be done while you sit or lie on an examination table. Your hands may
be at your sides or raised above your head (depending on which position makes it easiest
to find the lump).
Your doctor numbs your skin with a shot of numbing medicine
where the biopsy needle will be inserted. Once the area is numb, a needle is put through
your skin into your breast tissue. Ultrasound may be used to guide the placement of the needle during the biopsy. If the lump is a cyst, the needle will take out fluid. If the
lump is solid, the needle will take a sample of tissue. The biopsy sample is sent
to a lab to be looked at under a microscope. You must lie still while the biopsy is
The needle is then removed. Pressure is put on the needle site to stop
any bleeding. A bandage is put on. A fine-needle aspiration biopsy takes about 5 to
Core needle biopsy
A core needle biopsy may be done by an internist,
family medicine doctor, radiologist, or general surgeon. The biopsy may be done in
your doctor's office, a clinic, or the hospital.
You will take off your clothing
above the waist. A paper or cloth gown will cover your shoulders. The biopsy will
be done while you sit or lie on an examination table. Your hands may be at your sides
or raised above your head (depending on which position makes it easiest to find the
Your doctor numbs your skin with a shot of numbing medicine where the
biopsy needle will be inserted. Once the area is numb, a small cut is made in your
skin. A needle with a special tip is put into the breast tissue. The doctor will take
3 to 12 samples to get the most accurate results.
The needle is removed. Pressure
is put on the needle site to stop any bleeding. A bandage is put on. This may be repeated
several times to make sure enough tissue samples were collected.
You will take off your clothing
above the waist. A paper or cloth gown will cover your shoulders. You will lie on
your stomach on a special table that has a hole for your breast to hang through. A
mammogram or MRI is used to find the exact site for the biopsy.
doctor numbs your skin with a shot of numbing medicine where the biopsy needle will
be inserted. Once the area is numb, a small cut is made in the skin. With a special
X-ray to guide the needle, it is put into the suspicious area. Usually, more than
one sample is taken through the same cut. You must lie still while the biopsy is done.
small cut made for the needle does not usually need stitches. Pressure is put on the
needle site to stop any bleeding. A bandage is put on. A small metal marker (clip)
is usually placed in the area where the biopsy sample was taken. This is done to locate
the exact spot where the tissue sample was taken.
The metal marker will stay
in your breast if you do not have cancer. You will not be able to feel it, and it
will not set off metal detectors. You can still have an MRI safely. When you have
mammograms in the future, the radiologist will be able to see the metal marker.
type of breast biopsy takes about 60 minutes. But most of this time is needed for
the mammogram or MRI and finding the area for the biopsy.
A vacuum-assisted biopsy is done by a radiologist
or a surgeon. This method may be used for a core needle biopsy or a stereotactic biopsy.
The biopsy may be done while you sit or lie on an examination table. Or you will lie
on your stomach on a special table that has an opening for your breast. A mammogram,
ultrasound, or MRI is used to find the exact site for the biopsy.
numbs your breast with a shot of local anesthetic. Once the area is numb, a small
cut is made in your skin. A hollow probe with a special tip is put into the breast.
Tissue is gently vacuumed into the probe. With this type of biopsy, the doctor can
take more than one sample without removing the probe.
After the probe is removed,
pressure is put on the site to stop any bleeding. The small cut does not need stitches
and leaves only a small scar.
A vacuum-assisted core biopsy takes less than
An open biopsy is done by a general surgeon, gynecologist,
or family medicine doctor. The biopsy may be done in a surgery clinic or the hospital.
will need to take off all or most of your clothes above the waist. You will be given
a gown to use during the biopsy. The biopsy will be done while you sit or lie on an
examination table. Your hands may be at your sides or raised above your head (depending
on which position makes it easiest to find the lump).
An open biopsy can be
done using local or general anesthesia. If local anesthesia is used, you may also
be given a sedative.
If you have general anesthesia, an intravenous (IV) line
will be put in your arm to give you medication. You will not be awake during the biopsy.
the breast is numb (or you are unconscious), your doctor makes a cut through the skin
and into the breast tissue to the lump. If a small wire was placed using mammogram
to mark the biopsy site, your doctor will take a biopsy from the area at the tip of
Stitches are used to close the skin, and a bandage is put on. You
will be taken to a recovery room until you are fully awake. You can usually return
to your normal activities the next day.
An open biopsy takes about 60 minutes.
You will feel only a quick sting from the needle if you have a local
anesthetic to numb the biopsy area. You may feel some pressure when the biopsy needle
is put in. After a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, core needle biopsy,
or stereotactic biopsy, the site may be tender
for 2 to 3 days. You may also have some bruising, swelling, or slight bleeding. You
can use an ice pack or take an over-the-counter pain medicine (not aspirin) to help
relieve swelling and mild pain.
For 24 hours after the biopsy, do not do any
heavy lifting or other activities that stretch or pull the muscles of your chest.
you have general anesthesia for an open breast biopsy, you will not be awake during
the biopsy. After you wake up, the area may be numb from a local anesthetic that was
put in the biopsy site. You will also feel sleepy for several hours.
For 1 to
2 days after an open biopsy, you may feel tired. You may also have a mild sore throat
if a tube was used to help you breathe during the biopsy. Using throat lozenges and
gargling with warm salt water may help with the sore throat.
After an open biopsy,
your breast may feel tender, firm, swollen, and bruised. You can use an ice pack or
take an over-the-counter pain medicine (not aspirin) to help relieve swelling and
mild pain. The tenderness should go away in about a week, and the bruising fades within
2 weeks. But the firmness and swelling may last for 6 to 8 weeks. You should wear
a bra or sports bra for support for 2 to 3 days after the biopsy. Do not do any heavy
lifting or other activities that stretch or pull the muscles of your chest.
possible risks from a breast biopsy include:
An infection at the biopsy
site. An infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Bleeding from the biopsy
Not getting a sample of the abnormal tissue.
Dizziness and fainting.
your doctor immediately if:
Your pain lasts longer than a week.
have redness, a lot of swelling, bleeding, or pus from the biopsy site.
have a fever.
Core needle and stereotactic breast biopsies may leave a
small round scar. Open biopsies leave a small straight line scar. The scar fades over
time. A fine-needle biopsy usually does not leave a scar.
biopsy removes a sample of breast tissue that is looked at under a microscope for
No abnormal or cancer cells are present.
Breast changes that are not cancer
Calcium deposits in the breast.
are lumps filled with fluid.
Enlarged breast lobules (adenosis), which are
small round lumps that sometimes can be felt.
Fat necrosis, which are round,
firm lumps formed by damaged fatty tissue.
Fibrocystic lumps and firm tumors
changes that are not cancer but may increase your risk for cancer include:
cells in the breast ducts (atypical ductal hyperplasia or ADH).
in the breast lobules (atypical lobular hyperplasia or ALH).
cells in the breast lobules (lobular carcinoma in situ or LCIS).
Cancer cells are present.
Affects the Test
A needle biopsy takes tissue from a small area, so there is
a chance that a cancer may be missed.
What To Think About
lumps are not cancer. But the chance of having a cancerous breast lump is higher after
menopause than before menopause.
Some lumpiness of breast tissue is normal.
The fibrous tissue in the breast often feels lumpy or bumpy, especially before your
menstrual period. This lumpiness (fibrocystic change) is so common in women that doctors
now think it is a normal change. These changes usually go away after menopause, but
they also may be found in women who are taking hormone therapy following menopause.
Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSarah
A. Marshall, MD - Family Medicine E. Gregory Thompson,
MD - Internal Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family
Medicine Laura S. Dominici, MD - Surgery, General
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.
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