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Breast Biopsy

What is a breast biopsy?

A biopsy is a procedure performed to remove tissue or cells from the body for examination under a microscope. A breast biopsy is a procedure in which samples of breast tissue are removed with a special biopsy needle or during surgery to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present.

Biopsies may be performed under local or general anesthesia. There are several types of breast biopsy procedures. The type of biopsy performed will depend upon the location and size of the breast lump or abnormality.

Types of breast biopsy procedures include, but are not limited to, the following:

There are special instruments and techniques that may be used to guide the needles and to assist with biopsy procedures. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Other breast biopsy techniques are being studied, including ductal lavage. In this procedure, a small catheter is inserted through the nipple into a milk duct in the breast. Saline (salt-water solution) is gently flushed through the catheter into the duct. The saline is then withdrawn back through the catheter, collecting ductal cells in the fluid. The cells are examined in the lab to check for cancer or precancerous changes. This procedure is still considered investigational, but it may be used in clinical trials.

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Other related procedures used to evaluate and treat breast problems include mammogram, breast ultrasound, breast scan, lumpectomy, and mastectomy. Please see these procedures for additional information.

Anatomy of the Breast:

Each breast has 15 to 20 sections, called lobes, that are arranged like the petals of a daisy. Each lobe has many smaller lobules, which end in dozens of tiny bulbs that can produce milk.

The lobes, lobules, and bulbs are all linked by thin tubes called ducts. These ducts lead to the nipple in the center of a dark area of skin called the areola. Fat fills the spaces between lobules and ducts.

There are no muscles in the breast, but muscles lie under each breast and cover the ribs.

Each breast also contains blood vessels and vessels that carry lymph. The lymph vessels lead to small bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes, clusters of which are found under the arm, above the collarbone, and in the chest, as well as in many other parts of the body.

Reasons for the Procedure

Breast biopsies may be performed:

It is important to remember that a lump or other changes in the breast, or an abnormal area on a mammogram, may be caused by cancer or, more commonly, by other less serious problems.

There may be other reasons for your physician to recommend a breast biopsy.

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Risks of the Procedure

As with any surgical procedure, complications may occur. Some possible complications of a breast biopsy may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Patients who are allergic to or sensitive to medications, iodine, or latex should notify their physician.

If you are pregnant, or suspect that you may be pregnant, you should notify your physician.

If the biopsy is performed using an x-ray, the amount of radiation used during the procedure is considered minimal; therefore, the risk for radiation exposure is very low.

There may be other risks depending upon your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your physician prior to the procedure.

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Before the Procedure

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During the Procedure

A breast biopsy may be performed in a physician’s office, on an outpatient basis, or as part of your hospital stay. Some biopsy procedures only require local anesthesia, while others require general anesthesia. Procedures may vary depending on your condition and your physician’s practices.

Generally, a needle breast biopsy will follow this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any clothing from the waist up, and will be given a gown to wear.
  2. You will lie down or sit up, depending on the physician’s preference and whether x-ray or ultrasound guidance will be used.
  3. The skin over the biopsy site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution.
  4. When a local anesthetic is used, you will feel a needle stick when the anesthetic is injected. This may cause a brief stinging sensation. The physician will not start the procedure until the area is numb.
  5. When ultrasound is used, the probe will be placed on the breast to locate the breast lump or suspicious area.
  6. When stereotactic imaging is used, you will lie face down with your breast placed in an opening on the table. A computer will determine the exact location of the breast lump or suspicious area.
  7. You will need to lie still during the procedure.
  8. The physician will insert the needle either directly into the biopsy site or through a tiny incision to remove a sample of tissue and/or fluid. You may feel pressure when the physician obtains the sample.
  9. The physician will apply pressure to the biopsy site until the bleeding stops.
  10. If necessary, the opening will be closed with sutures or adhesive strips.
  11. A sterile bandage/dressing will be applied.
  12. The tissues will be sent to the lab for examination.

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Generally, an open breast biopsy will follow this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove clothing and will be given a gown to wear.
  2. An intravenous (IV) line may be started in your arm or hand.
  3. You will be positioned on the operating table.
  4. You may be given a sedative.
  5. If local anesthesia is given, you will feel a needle stick to numb the breast tissue.
  6. If general anesthesia is given, the anesthesiologist will continuously monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and blood oxygen level during the surgery.
  7. In some cases, a special wire will be placed into the lump under x-ray guidance to help the physician locate the breast lump or abnormality prior to the biopsy procedure. Other x-ray-guided procedures may be used.
  8. The skin over the surgical site will be cleansed with an antiseptic solution.
  9. A small incision will be made in the skin and underlying breast tissues until the lump or breast abnormality is exposed.
  10. A part of the lump or the entire lump will be removed.
  11. The opening will be closed with sutures or adhesive strips.
  12. A sterile dressing/bandage will be applied.
  13. The tissue will be sent to the lab for examination.

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After the Procedure

The recovery process will vary depending upon the type of biopsy performed and if anesthesia was administered.

If you received general anesthesia, you will be taken to the recovery room for observation. Once your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing are stable and you are alert, you will be taken to your hospital room or discharged to your home. If this procedure was performed on an outpatient basis, you should plan to have another person drive you home.

If you received local anesthesia, you will be discharged to your home after you have completed the recovery period.

Keep the biopsy area clean and dry if there are sutures. If sutures are used, they will be removed during a follow-up office visit. If there are no sutures, you may remove the bandage/dressing when instructed to do so, and bathe as usual.

The biopsy site may be tender or sore for several days after the breast biopsy. Take a pain reliever for soreness as recommended by your physician. Aspirin or certain other pain medications may increase the chance of bleeding. Be sure to take only recommended medications. Wearing a supportive bra may help with discomfort.

You may resume your normal diet unless your physician advises you differently. Your physician may ask you to avoid strenuous physical activity for a few days.

Notify your physician to report any of the following:

Your physician may give you additional or alternate instructions after the procedure, depending on your particular situation.

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Online Resources

The content provided here is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your physician. Please consult your physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

This page contains links to other Web sites with information about this procedure and related health conditions. We hope you find these sites helpful, but please remember we do not control or endorse the information presented on these Web sites, nor do these sites endorse the information contained here.