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Breast biopsy

Contents of this page:


Female Breast
Female Breast
Needle biopsy of the breast
Needle biopsy of the breast
Open biopsy of the breast
Open biopsy of the breast
Female breast biopsy
Female breast biopsy
Breast lump removal  - series
Breast lump removal - series

Alternative Names    Return to top

Biopsy - breast

Definition    Return to top

A breast biopsy is the removal of breast tissue to examine it for signs of breast cancer or other disorders.

How the Test is Performed    Return to top

Breast tissue samples may be obtained by a needle biopsy or open biopsy. The sample may consist of connective tissue, fat lobules, or milk ducts.

If the area of interest cannot be felt or is difficult to find, x-ray or ultrasound imaging may be used to help locate it. For an imaging-guided needle biopsy, imaging is used at the same time as the biopsy. For an open biopsy that requires imaging, the area of interest is marked with a needle or wire prior to surgery.


The injection site is cleaned, then injected with a local anesthetic. Fluid or cells may be removed with a needle attached to a syringe (fine needle aspiration), but removal of a piece of tissue requires a special needle apparatus. Several samples may be taken from the same area. When imaging is used, a small metal clip may be placed into the breast in the area of the biopsy to mark it for future mammograms.

Once the tissue sample has been taken, the needle is removed, and pressure is applied to the site to stop any bleeding. A bandage will be applied to absorb any fluid.


An open biopsy may remove part (incisional biopsy) or all (excisional biopsy) of the area of interest. If the entire lump or area of interest is removed, this method may also be called a lumpectomy.

Usually, you lie on your back for the procedure. Depending on the patient and the size of the lump, choices of anesthesia include local anesthesia, local anesthesia with sedation, or general anesthesia. An incision is made and breast tissue removed. Sometimes, testing is done for a preliminary diagnosis at the time of the procedure, but obtaining a final diagnosis requires more time.

After the tissue sample is taken, the incision is sutured, and a dressing and bandage are applied.

If general anesthesia is administered, vital signs (temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, blood pressure) will be monitored for at least an hour after completion of the procedure. Pain medication may be prescribed.

How to Prepare for the Test    Return to top

How the Test Will Feel    Return to top

There may be a sharp, stinging sensation when the local anesthetic is administered. During the procedure, you may feel slight discomfort or light pressure.

After the test, the breast may be sore and tender to the touch for several days. If an incision is made, pain medication will probably be prescribed. For needle biopsy, over-the-counter pain medication should be adequate.

Why the Test is Performed    Return to top

A biopsy is the only way to determine if tissue is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Normal Results    Return to top

A normal result means there is no sign of cancer.

What Abnormal Results Mean    Return to top

Benign tumors include:

Cancerous tumors include:

Ask your doctor about your specific condition and how it applies to you.

Risks    Return to top

Considerations    Return to top

Most breast lumps are detected during a manual breast exam or mammography. A discharge from the nipple may indicate the presence of a cancerous tumor. Even if the biopsy results are benign, discuss ongoing breast screening with your doctor.

References    Return to top

Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKena WG. Clinical Oncology. 3rd ed. Orlando, Fl: Churchill Livingstone; 2004.

Whitman GJ. Ultrasound-guided breast biopsies. Ultrasound Clin. Dec 2006; 1(4); 603-615.

Update Date: 7/25/2007

Updated by: Robert A. Cowles, MD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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