What Is a Breast Biopsy?
A breast biopsy is a simple medical procedure in which a sample of breast
tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory for testing. A breast biopsy is the
best way to evaluate if a suspicious lump or portion of your breast is
It’s important to remember that breast lumps aren’t always cancerous. There are several conditions that can
cause lumps or growths in the breast. A breast biopsy can help determine if a
lump in your breast is cancerous or benign, which means non-cancerous.
Why a Breast Biopsy Is Performed
A breast biopsy is typically performed
to investigate a lump in the breast. Most breast lumps are non-cancerous.
Your doctor will usually order a
biopsy if they become concerned about the results of a mammogram or breast
ultrasound, or if a lump was found during a physical exam.
A biopsy may also be ordered if there
are changes in your nipple, including:
- bloody discharge
- dimpling skin
These are all symptoms of a tumor in
What Are the Risks of a Breast Biopsy?
Although a breast biopsy is relatively
simple and its risks are low, every surgical procedure carries a risk. Some
possible side effects of a breast biopsy include:
- an altered appearance of your breast, depending on the size
of the tissue removed
- bruising of the breast
- swelling of the breast
- soreness at the injection site
- an infection of the biopsy site
Most of these possible side effects
are temporary. If they’re
persistent, they can be treatable. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for
care after the biopsy. This will greatly reduce your chance of infection.
Complications from a biopsy are rare.
The benefits of having your potentially cancerous lump inspected far outweigh
any risk from the procedure.
The quicker breast cancer is detected,
the faster treatment can begin. This will greatly improve your chances of
How to Prepare for a Breast Biopsy
Before your breast biopsy, tell your
doctor about any allergies you may have, especially any history of allergic
reactions to anesthesia. Also, tell your doctor about any medications you may
be taking, including over-the-counter drugs such
as aspirin or supplements. They may cause your blood to thin.
If your doctor says you’ll be undergoing
MRI, tell them about any electronic devices implanted in your body, such as a
pacemaker. Also, tell your doctor if you’re
pregnant or concerned you may be pregnant. While the test is safe for adults,
considered safe for unborn babies.
Consider wearing a bra to your
appointment. You may be given a cold pack after the procedure to help with pain
and inflammation. Your bra will help keep the cold pack in place.
How Is a Breast Biopsy Performed?
Before the breast biopsy, your doctor
will examine your breast. This could include:
- a physical
- an ultrasound
- a mammogram
- an MRI
During one of these tests, your doctor
may place a thin needle or wire into the area so the surgeon can easily find
the area. You’ll be given local
anesthesia to numb the area around the lump.
Types of Breast Biopsies
There are several ways a surgeon can
take a sample of breast tissue. These include:
Fine Needle Biopsy
During a fine needle biopsy, you’ll lie on a table while your surgeon inserts a small needle
and syringe into the lump and extracts a sample. This helps determine the
difference between a liquid-filled cyst and a solid mass lump.
Core Needle Biopsy
A core needle biopsy is similar to a
fine needle biopsy. During this procedure, your doctor uses a larger needle to
collect several samples, each about the size of a grain of rice.
During a stereotactic biopsy, you’ll lie face down on
a table with a hole in it. The table is electrically powered, and it can be raised.
In this way, your surgeon can work underneath the table while your breast is
firmly placed between two plates. Your surgeon will make a small incision and
remove samples with a needle or a vacuum-powered probe.
MRI-Guided Core Needle Biopsy
During an MRI-guided core needle
biopsy, you’ll lie face down on
a table with your breast lying in a depression on the table. An MRI machine
will provide images that guide the surgeon to the lump. A small incision is
made, and a sample is taken with a core needle.
A surgical biopsy involves the
surgical removal of a breast mass. Afterward, the sample is sent to the
hospital laboratory. At the laboratory, they’ll
examine the edges to ensure the entire cancerous lump was removed. A metal
marker may be left in your breast to monitor the area in the future.
After a Breast Biopsy
likely be able to go home following the procedure. The samples from your biopsy
will be sent to a laboratory. It will usually take just a few days for them to
be properly analyzed.
need to care for the biopsy site by keeping it clean and changing bandages.
Your doctor will instruct you about how to care for your wound properly.
If any of the following occur, you
should contact your doctor:
- a fever of over 100°F
- redness at the
- warmth at the
- discharge from the
These may be signs of infection.
Results of a Breast Biopsy
Your test results can come back as
benign, pre-cancerous, or cancerous.
If the sample is cancerous, the biopsy
results will also be able to reveal the type of cancer. Types of breast cancer
that can be detected include:
- ductal carcinoma, which is cancer of the breast ducts
- inflammatory breast cancer, which is a rare form that makes
the skin of the breast appear infected
- lobular carcinoma, which is a cancer of the lobules, or the
glands that produce milk
- Paget’s disease,
which is a rare cancer that affects the nipples
Your doctor will use the type of
cancer and other information from the biopsy to help plan your treatment. This
may include one or more of the following:
- a lumpectomy,
which is the surgical removal of the tumor
- a mastectomy, which
is the surgical removal of the breast
- radiation therapy
- hormone therapy
However, several non-cancerous
conditions can also cause lumps in the breast. They include:
which is a benign tumor of the breast tissue
breast disease, which involves painful lumps in the breasts caused by hormone
papilloma, which is a small, benign tumor of the milk ducts
- mammary fat
necrosis, which is a lump formed by bruised, dead, or injured fat tissue