What is a breast biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a medical test that is used to diagnose breast cancer. During a breast biopsy, your doctor will remove abnormal cells or fluid from an area of concern within the breast. The tissue is then examined in a laboratory for the presence of breast cancer.

A breast biopsy is the only test to determine if you have breast cancer. Most women who have breast biopsies do not have cancer.

Who is a candidate for a breast biopsy?

You may be a candidate for a breast biopsy if your doctor found an abnormal mass in your breast during an exam or during breast imaging. This can occur during your annual mammogram, an ultrasound or breast MRI.Your doctor may also order a breast biopsy if you have abnormal discharge or crusting from or around your nipple.

What are the risks associated with having a breast biopsy?

Risks associated with a breast biopsy include:

  • Breast swelling or bruising
  • Bleeding at the site of the biopsy
  • Infection at biopsy site
  • If a large quantity of tissue is removed, the breast appearance could be altered

If you recently had a breast biopsy and develop a fever or the biopsy site becomes warm and red, you could have an infection. Call your Mercy Health cancer care doctor right away to determine next steps.

What to expect during a breast biopsy?

There are a variety of types of breast biopsies, and each procedure is a bit different. Your doctor will evaluate your case to determine what type of biopsy will be most effective for you.

Types of biopsies include:

Fine-needle aspiration

During a fine-needle aspiration, a needle with a syringe at the end collects a sample of cells or fluid from a suspicious lump. If the mass is solid, your doctor will collect a sample of tissue to evaluate in a lab.

Core needle biopsy

A core needle breast biopsy is used when your doctor can see an abnormal mass of tissue during an ultrasound or MRI. During the biopsy, your doctor will take several small samples of tissue to evaluate for malignant cells.

Your doctor may use an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine to help identify the location of the lump. When the lump is located, your doctor will make a small incision in the breast to obtain a sample of tissue. When an ultrasound is used, the procedure is called an ultrasound-guided core needle breast biopsy. When an MRI is used, the MRI-guided core needle breast biopsy.

Stereotactic breast biopsy

During a stereotactic breast biopsy, your doctor will use a mammogram to locate the abnormal tissue. Once the tumor is located, he or she will make an incision and use a needle or probe to remove samples of the abnormal tissue.

Surgical biopsy

If results from a needle biopsy are not clear, your doctor may recommend a surgical biopsy to obtain a larger tissue sample to evaluate for malignant cells. During a surgical biopsy, your doctor will take a portion of the abnormal tissue in a procedure called an incisional biopsy. If your doctor must remove the entire abnormal tissue mass, it is called an excisional biopsy.

Core needle biopsies or surgical biopsies are the most common breast biopsies.

Recovery from a breast biopsy

Most patients will go home after the breast biopsy. You may experience pain at the incision site. If you do, your doctor may recommend taking a non-aspirin pain reliever (Tylenol). You should take it easy the day of the biopsy but can return to your normal routine the next day.

Results of a breast biopsy

Your tissue sample is sent to a lab where a doctor called a pathologist will examine the sample to determine if your cells are malignant or benign. It will take a few days for the results to be ready for review by your doctor.

Find a breast cancer expert nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you