Diseases & Conditions

Biopsy of the Breast - Breast Biopsy


Overview & Description

A breast biopsy involves taking a piece of tissue and/or fluid from the breast.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

A breast biopsy is often done when breast lumps are found. Women with an abnormal mammogram are also advised to have a biopsy. Other unexplained breast problems may need a biopsy to determine the cause. Most biopsies are done to make sure breast cancer is not present.

How is the procedure performed?

Tissue samples for a breast biopsy may be obtained with the following procedures:

  • Fine needle aspiration. Local anesthesia is used to numb the area. The provider uses a thin needle to obtain fluid and cells from the lump.
  • Needle biopsy. Local anesthesia is used to numb the area. If the lump is seen only on mammogram, a needle is guided under X-ray to take a sample.
  • Incisional biopsy. The woman is generally put to sleep with general anesthesia. A surgeon removes a sample of the lump or suspicious tissue.
  • Excisional biopsy. The woman is generally put to sleep with general anesthesia. The surgeon removes all of the lump or suspicious tissue, as well as a surrounding area of healthy tissue.
  • The fluid and tissue will be carefully studied to determine first if it is cancer. If it is, the tissue then will be tested to see how aggressive the cancer is.


    Preparation & Expectations

    What happens right after the procedure?

    After the procedure, a woman is taken to the surgery recovery room. The woman is watched until the medications wear off. After this, women are usually allowed to go home. If a woman was put to sleep during the procedure, someone else must drive her home. Mild pain is normal after the procedure. It is usually treated with over-the-counter pain medications.

    The surgeon usually tells the individual how to care for the wound. If not, the person should ask the nurse before going home. The partner or friend who comes to take the person home should listen to the instructions too. Written instructions are very helpful.


    Home Care and Complications

    What happens later at home?

    Women who only had local anesthesia can return to normal activities immediately. Women who had general anesthesia usually need about 24 hours to recover. Women should not drive during this time. The surgical staff will provide home care instructions. The incision site should be kept clean and dry.

    After the procedure, the breast will be tender for a few days. Putting ice bags on the area on the day of the operation and cutting back on activity will help. Women should wear a bra at all times, even when sleeping, to support the breast and reduce pain for the first 3 to 5 days. Pain medications should be taken as needed.

    Biopsy results often take a few days to come back. The healthcare provider will discuss the results of the biopsy and what they mean. Most biopsies show normal or other noncancerous results. However, breast cancer is possible in some cases.

    What are the potential complications after the procedure?

    Any surgery can cause bleeding, infection, or allergic reaction to anesthesia. Some people have a bit of bleeding around the incision. If the dressing must be changed more than twice, the person should call the surgeon.

    If a breast lump is removed, the surgeon tries to make the cavity left behind as small as possible. That's because the body does not tolerate empty spaces well. It tends to fill in the space, often with fluid or blood. The tissue around the space where the lump was removed may weep, filling the cavity with thin, watery fluid. This is usually absorbed by the body and is generally nothing to worry about.

    The site becomes infected in less than 5% of cases. Infection is suspected if the breast becomes more tender after the third day following the biopsy, if there is redness or pus around the incision, or if a fever develops. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.


    Attribution

    Author:David T. Moran, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:05/30/01
    Reviewer:Fern Carness, RN, MPH
    Date Reviewed:05/13/01