Breast Biopsy

When a woman finds a lump in her breast, it can be scary. But certain tests can help her find out quickly if something is really wrong, or if the lump is nothing to worry about. A breast biopsy is one of those tests.

A breast biopsy is a procedure to take a sample of breast tissue. A biopsy is done when a woman or her healthcare provider finds a lump in her breast during an exam, or spots one on an imaging test. During a biopsy, some tissue is taken from the lump and examined in a lab. In some cases, the whole lump is removed.

Types of Biopsies

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about the type of biopsy that will work best for you.

With a fine needle biopsy, or F-N-A, the skin is numbed and a thin needle is put through the skin of the breast into the lump. A small amount of tissue is taken from the lump.

With a core needle biopsy, a larger needle is used so that a larger amount of tissue can be taken. These two procedures are often done in a doctor’s office or clinic.

Sometimes a needle biopsy is done while the healthcare provider uses an imaging machine to guide the needle. The imaging may be a mammogram, ultrasound machine, or MRI. This is called a stereotactic biopsy. This procedure is often done in a hospital.

In some cases, a needle biopsy is not possible. Or, it may not give the healthcare provider enough tissue. If this is the case, an open biopsy may be done.

An open biopsy is often done in a hospital or surgery center. Before the procedure, you are given anesthesia. It will make you relaxed, drowsy, or asleep during the procedure. An incision is made in the breast. A piece of tissue from the lump is removed. This is called an incisional biopsy. If the whole lump is removed, this is called an excisional biopsy. It’s also known as a lumpectomy.

Often, a guide wire will be placed in the breast. X-rays are used to direct the healthcare provider to the area of tissue to be sampled. This is called a needle-directed biopsy or J Wire directed biopsy.

After the tissue is removed, a tiny marker or clip may be inserted in the site so that the area can be monitored with X-rays to check for changes.

When the biopsy is finished, the incision is closed with sutures or adhesive strips. A bandage is put over the area.

After Your Biopsy

After your biopsy, keep the bandage clean and dry. Change or remove the bandage as your healthcare provider advises. After bathing, gently pat the incision area dry. Don’t rub or pull on the incision site. You may see a bruise at or around the site. This is normal. The incision will heal on its own in a week or two.

You’ll probably have some pain in your breast for a day or two after your biopsy. You may be instructed to apply an ice pack to the biopsy site periodically to relieve pain and swelling. Ask your healthcare provider about taking pain medication. And make sure to ask your healthcare provider about the symptoms of infection. These include fever or chills, or redness, swelling or worse pain in the breast.

In the meantime, your tissue sample will be sent to a lab. There, a pathologist will examine the tissue and make a diagnosis. It may take a week or more to get the results of your biopsy. Make a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider to learn about your results. He or she will go over any additional tests you may need, or help you set up a treatment plan.

Things to Remember

Your healthcare provider will help you decide on the type of biopsy that’s best for you. Anesthesia will be used to prevent discomfort during the biopsy. Follow all instructions on caring for your incision and the biopsy area. In a week or two, your healthcare provider will talk with you about your results.

A breast biopsy is an important type of test that can give more information about your health. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.

What We Have Learned

  1. A fine needle biopsy requires an overnight stay in the hospital. True or false?
    The answer is False. A fine needle biopsy can often be done in a doctor’s office.
  2. In an open biopsy, sometimes the entire lump will be removed from your breast. True or false?
    The answer is True. This is called an excisional biopsy, or lumpectomy.
  3. Breast biopsy results are available right away. True or false?
    The answer is False. It may take one or two weeks to get the results of your biopsy.