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A breast biopsy
removes a sample of breast tissue that is looked at under a microscope to check
breast cancer. A breast biopsy is usually done to
check a lump found during a breast examination or a suspicious area found on a
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
There are several ways to do a breast biopsy. The
sample of breast tissue will be looked at under a microscope to check for
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.
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:
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 PDF document?).
If you take a blood thinner, you will
probably need to stop taking it for a week before the biopsy.
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.
A fine-needle aspiration biopsy may be done by an
family medicine doctor,
radiologist, or a 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 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 15 minutes.
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
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
A core needle biopsy takes about 15
A stereotactic biopsy is done
by a radiologist. The biopsy is done in a radiology department.
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
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 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.
This 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.
Your doctor 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.
vacuum-assisted core biopsy takes less than an hour.
An open biopsy is done by a general
gynecologist, or family medicine doctor. The biopsy
may be done in a surgery clinic or the hospital.
You 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 the wire.
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
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.
hours after the biopsy, do not do any heavy lifting or other activities that
stretch or pull the muscles of your chest.
If 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.
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
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.
The possible risks from a breast biopsy
Call your doctor immediately if:
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
Breast changes that are not cancer (benign) include:
Breast changes that are not cancer but may increase your risk for cancer include:
Cancer cells are
A needle biopsy takes tissue
from a small area, so there is a chance that a cancer may be missed.
Most breast 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
hormone therapy following menopause.
Other Works Consulted
Burstein HJ, et al. (2011). Malignant tumors of the breast. In VT DeVita Jr et al., eds., DeVita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology, 9th ed., vol. 3, pp. 1401–1446. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis:
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009).
Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerC. Dale Mercer, MD, FRCSC, FACS - General Surgery
Current as ofNovember 14, 2014
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & C. Dale Mercer, MD, FRCSC, FACS - General Surgery
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