What Is a Breast Biopsy
A biopsy is the only test that can tell for sure if a suspicious area is cancer. During a breast biopsy, the doctor removes a small amount of tissue from the breast.
There are two main kinds of breast biopsies. One is called surgical biopsy. The other is called core-needle biopsy.
The kind of breast biopsy a doctor recommends may depend on what the suspicious area looks like. It also might depend on the size and where it is located in the breast.
After the biopsy, the tissue is sent to a doctor who will look at the tissue under a microscope. This doctor, called a pathologist (puh-THOL-o-jist), looks for tissue changes. The pathology report tells if there is cancer or not. It takes about a week to get the report.
Kinds of Breast Biopsy
A surgical biopsy is usually done using local anesthesia (an-ess-THEE-zhuh). Local anesthesia means that the breast will be numbed. You will have an IV and may have medicine to make you drowsy.
The surgeon makes a 1- to 2-inch cut on the breast and removes part or all of the suspicious tissue. Some of the tissue around it also may be taken out.
A radiologist is a doctor who specializes in medical imaging (like x-rays and mammograms). If the suspicious area can be seen on mammogram or ultrasound but can’t be felt, a radiologist usually inserts a thin wire to mark the spot for the surgeon before the biopsy.
A core-needle biopsy is done using local anesthesia. The doctor inserts a hollow needle into the breast and removes a small amount of suspicious tissue. The doctor may place a tiny marker inside the breast. It marks the spot where the biopsy was done.
Radiologists or surgeons usually do core-needle biopsies using special imaging equipment.
Ultrasound-guided core-needle biopsy uses ultrasound to guide the needle to the suspicious area. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the breast. It is like what is used to look at the baby when a woman is pregnant. You will lie on your back or side for this procedure. The doctor will hold the ultrasound device against your breast to guide the needle.
Stereotactic-guided core-needle biopsy uses x-ray equipment and a computer to guide the needle. Usually for this kind of biopsy, you lie on your stomach on a special table. The table will have an opening for your breast. Your breast will be compressed like it is for a mammogram.
Freehand core-needle biopsy does not use ultrasound or x-ray equipment. It is used less often and only for lumps that can be felt through the skin.
It is not unusual to feel anxious about having a biopsy. Ask your doctor or nurse what to expect. It may help to talk to your family and friends. You also might want someone to come to your appointment with you.