What is a breast biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a procedure where a small sample of breast tissue is removed for testing. The tissue may be removed using a small needle or surgery, then the tissue sample will be checked for signs of breast cancer or other abnormal cells.

Doctors may recommend breast biopsies following an abnormal result on a mammogramultrasound or other breast exams. This can include a lump felt in the breast, nipple problems like bloody discharge or problems internally, like a fluid-filled mass or calcium deposits.

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Breast biopsy procedures

The type of breast biopsy recommended for you can depend on the size and location of the area of concern. These include:


  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy: A thin needle is used to remove a sample from inside the lump. No incision is needed.
  • Core needle biopsy: A hollow needle is inserted into the lump to remove small cylinders of tissue from the site.
  • Open biopsy: An incision is made in the breast to remove part or all of the area of concern. Wire localization — a thin wire with x-ray technology — may be used to locate a small, deep and hard-to-find lump. The patient will likely be put under general anesthesia, and a numbing agent will be injected into the breast.
  • Stereotactic biopsy: 3D mammogram results are used to discover the exact site of the lump to guide the needle to the correct location.
  • Vacuum-assisted core biopsy: A special tool containing a hollow tube or probe is inserted through a small cut in the breast to gently pull in breast tissue for sampling.

How to prepare for a breast biopsy

Preparations for a breast biopsy will vary depending on the process. For example, if you are awake during the biopsy, you do not need to do anything special to prepare. However, if you are undergoing general anesthesia, you must not eat or drink anything for a specific period before surgery.

Regardless of the procedure, it is important to discuss the following information with your doctor:

  • If you are pregnant or think you may be pregnant.
  • If you have any allergies, specifically to medicines, latex, anesthesia medicines or tape.
  • If you are on any current medications, specifically blood thinners, but also including vitamins, supplements and herbs.
  • Any family histories.

What to expect after the breast biopsy

Breast biopsies are typically done in a provider’s office on an outpatient basis, meaning you can go home the same day. If you undergo surgery, the doctor may keep you for a day to monitor the incision. The total recovery time will depend on whatever method was used.

At home, it is important to keep the site dry and clean. If you had surgery that required stitches, they will be removed at a follow-up appointment. Otherwise, follow your doctor’s directions before removing the bandage.

The site of the biopsy may be sore or bruised. If any pain or discomfort arises, take only the recommended medicines by your doctor. Stay away from aspirin, as this can increase your chance of bleeding.

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