What is a breast biopsy?
biopsy is a small piece of tissue that’ s taken out and checked in a lab. For a breast
biopsy, breast tissue may be removed with a special biopsy needle. It might also
removed during surgery. It’ s checked to see if cancer or other abnormal cells are
Why might I need a breast biopsy?
Breast biopsies may be done:
To check a lump or mass that can be felt in the
To check a problem seen on a mammogram, such as small calcium deposits in breast tissue
(microcalcifications) or a fluid-filled mass (cyst)
To evaluate nipple problems, such as a bloody discharge from the nipple
To find out if a breast lump or mass is cancer (malignant) or not cancer (benign)
lump or other area of concern in the breast may be caused by cancer. Or it may be
by another less serious problem. Many times, a biopsy is the only way to know for
There may be other reasons for your doctor to recommend a breast biopsy.
Types of breast biopsies
There are many ways to do a breast biopsy. The type of biopsy that you’ll have
depends on where the breast lump or area of concern is and how big it is.
Biopsies may be done under local or general anesthesia. For local anesthesia,
medicine is used to numb your breast. You’ll be awake, but won’t feel pain. For
general anesthesia, you’ll be given medicine to put you into a deep sleep during the
Types of breast biopsies include:
Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. A very thin needle is put through
your skin and into the lump or area of concern. The healthcare provider uses a
syringe to take out a small sample of fluid or tissue. No cut (incision) is
needed. An FNA biopsy may be done to help see if the area is a fluid-filled sac
(cyst) or a solid lump.
Core needle biopsy. The provider guides a large needle through the
skin into the lump or area of concern. Small cylinders of tissue, called cores,
are removed. No cut is needed.
Open (surgical) biopsy. A cut is made in the breast. The surgeon
removes part or all of the lump or changed area. In some cases, the lump may be
small, deep, and hard to find. Then a method called wire localization may also
be used. For this, the surgeon puts a thin needle with a very thin wire inside
it into the breast. X-ray images help guide the tip of the needle in to the
lump. The needle is then taken out but the wire stays in. The surgeon follows
this wire to find the lump.
Special tools and methods may be used to guide the needles and help with biopsy procedures.
Stereotactic biopsy. With this method, a 3-D image of the breast is
made using a computer and mammogram results. The 3-D image is used to guide
the biopsy needle to the exact site of the breast lump or area of concern.
Vacuum-assisted core biopsy. A small cut is made in the breast. The
provider puts a hollow tube or probe into the breast through the cut. It’ s
guided to the breast lump or mass by MRI, X-rays, or ultrasound. Suction is
used so the breast tissue is gently pulled into the probe. A spinning knife
inside the tube cuts the tissue from the breast. Several tissue samples can be
taken from this one cut.
Ultrasound-guided biopsy. This method uses ultrasound images of the breast lump or mass. These images help guide
the needle to the exact biopsy site.
What are the risks of a breast biopsy?
All procedures have some risk. Some possible complications of a breast biopsy include:
Bruising and mild pain at the biopsy site
Prolonged bleeding from the biopsy site
Infection near the biopsy site
If the biopsy is done using an X-ray, the amount of radiation used is small. The risk
for radiation exposure is very low.
may have other risks depending on your overall health. Be sure to discuss any concerns
with your healthcare provider before the biopsy is done.
How do I get ready for a breast biopsy?
Your provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions you have about
You’ll be asked to sign a consent form that gives your permission to do the
procedure. Read the form carefully and ask questions if any thing isn’t clear.
In most cases , you don’t need to prepare for a biopsy if your breast is numbed
(local anesthesia) but you are awake. But if you’re given medicine to put you into
a deep sleep (general anesthesia), you must not eat or drink anything for some
time before the surgery. Your surgeon will give you specific instructions.
Don’t use lotion, cream, powder, deodorant, or perfume on your arm, underarm, or breast
on the day of the procedure.
Tell your provider if you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
Tell your provider if you are sensitive to or allergic to any medicines, latex, tape,
and anesthesia medicines (local and general).
Tell your provider about all the medicines you take. This includes both over-the-counter
and prescription medicines. It also includes vitamins, herbs, and other supplements.
Tell your provider if you have a history of bleeding disorders. Let your provider
know if you are taking any blood-thinning medicines, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other
medicines that affect blood clotting. You may need to stop taking these medicines
before the biopsy.
If you have a sedative or general anesthesia, make sure you have someone drive you
home afterward. You will not be able to drive after the biopsy.
Your healthcare provider may have other instructions for you based on your medical
What happens during a breast biopsy?
breast biopsy may be done in a provider’s office. It may be done on an outpatient
which means you go home the same day. Or it may be done as a hospital stay. Some types
of biopsies only need local anesthesia. For other types, general anesthesia is needed.
Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your provider’s practices.
Generally, a needle breast biopsy follows this process:
You ‘ll be asked to remove any clothing from the
waist up and will be given a gown to wear.
You may lie down or sit up. It depends on your
provider’s preference and if X-ray or ultrasound guidance will be used.
The skin over the biopsy site will be cleaned
with a sterile solution.
When a local anesthetic is used, you’ll feel a
needle stick when the medicine is injected. You may feel a brief stinging when
the medicine is put in. The biopsy will not start until the area is numb.
When ultrasound is used, the provider will move
the probe over your breast to find the breast lump or mass.
When stereotactic imaging is used, you’ll lie
face down with your breast placed in an opening on the table. A computer will find
the exact site of the breast lump or area of concern.
You will need to lie very still during the
procedure. But you won’t need to hold your breath.
The provider will put the needle right into the
biopsy site or through a tiny cut (incision). He or she will remove a small sample
of tissue or fluid. You may feel pressure when the doctor takes the sample.
Pressure will be applied to the biopsy site
until the bleeding stops.
If needed, the opening will be closed with
stitches or adhesive strips.
A sterile bandage or dressing will be used to
cover the site .
The tissue sample(s) will be sent to the
Generally, an open breast biopsy will follow this process:
You’ll be asked to remove your clothing and will
be given a gown to wear.
An IV (intravenous) line may be started in your arm or hand.
You’ll be placed on the operating table.
You may be given medicine (a sedative) to relax you.
If local anesthesia is given, you ‘ll feel a
needle stick to numb your breast tissue.
If general anesthesia is given, the anesthesiologist will keep checking your heart
rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery.
In some cases, a special wire will be put into
the lump before the biopsy, guided by X-ray images. This is to help the doctor
find the breast lump or mass. Other X-ray-guided methods may be used, too.
The skin over the surgical site will be cleaned with a sterile solution.
The provider will make a small cut in your skin
and underlying breast tissue until the lump or mass is exposed.
A part of the lump or the full lump will be removed.
The opening will be closed with stitches or adhesive strips.
A sterile dressing or bandage will be applied.
The tissue will be sent to the lab for
What happens after a breast biopsy?
How long it takes to recover will depend on the type of biopsy you had and the type
of anesthesia used.
you had general anesthesia, you’ll be taken to the recovery room, where you’ll be
watched closely. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you’re
alert, you will be taken to your hospital room. Or you will go home. If the biopsy
done on an outpatient basis, you should plan to have another person drive you home.
you had local anesthesia, you’ll be able to go home after you have recovered.
Keep the biopsy area clean and dry. If stitches were used, they’ll be removed during
a follow-up office visit. If there are no stitches, you may remove the bandage or
dressing when instructed to do so and bathe as normal.
The biopsy site may be sore for several days after surgery. Take a pain reliever as
recommended by your doctor. Aspirin or certain other pain medicines may increase your
chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended medicines. Wearing a supportive
bra may help with mild pain.
You may go back to your normal diet unless your doctor tells you differently. You
may be told not to do any strenuous physical activity for a few days.
Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:
Fever or chills
Redness, swelling, bleeding, or other drainage from the biopsy site
Increased pain around the biopsy site
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.
Before you agree to a test or procedure, make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how you will get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure