What happens during a breast biopsy?
Although breast biopsies can be a source of anxiety, they can detect breast cancer early or confirm you do not have cancer.
“They are an important diagnostic tool that can help your doctor find the best treatment or screening for you,” says Dr. Irene Israel, a breast surgeon at Advocate Health Care. “Breast biopsies remove a small sample of breast tissue and tell us if you have cancer or not. It is also possible to identify if you have high-risk lesions in your breast that require a change in your screening recommendations.”
There are several types of breast biopsies:
Fine-needle aspiration biopsy: By inserting a thin needle into the suspicious area of the breast, a small sample of cells are removed for analysis.
Core needle biopsy: A larger needle removes a small sample of tissue from the breast.
Stereotactic biopsy: A procedure that removes a small sample of breast tissue using a mammogram as a guide.
Surgical biopsy: This is a more in-depth procedure in which a surgeon removes the entire suspicious lump or a portion of the breast tissue for analysis.
Ultrasound-guided needle biopsy: Using ultrasound as a guide, a needle collects a sample of the breast mass.
“The type of biopsy done is primarily decided by how your breast abnormality was found,” says Dr. Israel. “If a mass is found during an ultrasound, your doctor will use an ultrasound-guided needle. If your calcifications are found on mammography, then you will need a stereotactic biopsy. Or, if the abnormality would be difficult to sample with either form of imaging, then you may need a surgical biopsy.”
Breast biopsies are typically an outpatient procedure and do not require general anesthesia. The area where the biopsy will be performed is numbed with a local anesthetic. You also may be given a mild sedative to help relax. The only exception is a surgical excisional biopsy which will require twilight-like anesthesia and is an operation that requires an incision.
After the biopsy, you may experience some soreness or bruising in the breast area. Depending on the type of biopsy performed, you may be able to return to normal activities within a day or two.
Results are typically available within a few days to a week. If the biopsy shows that the abnormality is cancerous, you may need further tests to determine the stage and extent of the cancer. If the results show that the abnormality is not cancerous, you may still need to follow up with your doctor to monitor the area for any changes.
“The results of your breast biopsy can be very anxiety-provoking or confusing. It is important to discuss the results of your biopsy with a breast health specialist,” says Dr. Israel. “If you have breast cancer, see a breast surgeon to assist with treatment planning. Even if you have a benign biopsy, you may have a high-risk lesion that requires special screening such as a breast MRI.”
Want to learn more about your risk for breast cancer? Take a free online quiz here.
About the Author
Jennifer Benson, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She has 10+ years of community development and communication experience for non-profits and has a BA in Architecture from Judson University in Elgin, IL. Outside of work, you can find her planning the next adventure near water or rocks, re-organizing spaces, working on her Master’s in Public Health, caring for her senior citizen cat, keeping to healthy moving and eating disciplines and growing green things wherever she can find room.