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
You are asked to undress from the waist up. You wear a robe that opens in the front. During the biopsy, you are awake.
You lie on your back.
The biopsy is done in the following way:
- The health care provider cleans the area on your breast.
- Numbing medicine is injected.
- The doctor makes a very small cut on your breast over the area that needs to be biopsied.
- The doctor uses an ultrasound machine to guide the needle to the abnormal area in your breast that needs to be biopsied.
- Several biopsies may be taken.
- A small metal clip or needle may be placed into the breast in the area of the biopsy to mark it, if needed.
The biopsy is done using one of the following:
- Fine needle aspiration
- Hollow needle (called a core needle)
- Vacuum-powered device
- Both a hollow needle and vacuum-powered device
Once the tissue sample has been taken, the catheter or needle is removed. Ice and pressure are applied to the site to stop any bleeding. A bandage is applied to absorb any fluid. You do not need any stitches after the needle is taken out. If needed, strips of tape may be placed to close the wound.
How to Prepare for the Test
The provider will ask about your medical history and perform a manual breast exam.
If you take medicines (including aspirin, supplements, or herbs), ask your doctor whether you need to stop taking these before the biopsy.
Tell your doctor if you may be pregnant.
DO NOT use lotion, perfume, powder, or deodorant underneath your arms or on your breasts.
How the Test will Feel
When the numbing medicine is injected, it may sting a bit.
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. You can do whatever activity you want as long as it does not cause pain or discomfort. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to relieve pain.
You may have some bruising, and there will be a very small scar where the needle was inserted.
Why the Test is Performed
A normal result means there is no sign of cancer or other breast problems.
Your health care provider will let you know if and when you need a follow-up mammogram or other tests.
What Abnormal Results Mean
A biopsy can identify a number of breast conditions that are not cancer or precancer, including:
Biopsy results may show conditions such as:
- Atypical ductal hyperplasia
- Atypical lobular hyperplasia
- Flat epithelial atypia
- Radial scar
- Intraductal papilloma
- Lobular carcinoma-in-situ
Abnormal results may mean that you have breast cancer. Two main types of breast cancer may be found:
- Ductal carcinoma starts in the tubes (ducts) that move milk from the breast to the nipple. Most breast cancers are of this type.
- Lobular carcinoma starts in parts of the breast called lobules, which produce milk.
Depending on the biopsy results, you may need further surgery or treatment.
Your provider will discuss the meaning of the biopsy results with you.
There is a slight chance of infection at the injection or incision site. Excessive bleeding is rare.
Biopsy - breast - ultrasound; Ultrasound-guided breast biopsy; Core needle breast biopsy - ultrasound; Breast cancer-breast biopsy - ultrasound; Abnormal mammogram - breast biopsy - ultrasound
Burke CT, Dixon RG, Mauro MA, et al. Ultrasound-guided breast biopsy. In: Burke CT, Dixon RG, Mauro MA, et al. High-Yield Imaging: Interventional. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010.
Katz VL, Dotters D. Breast diseases: diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant disease. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 15.
Wolff AC, Domchek SM, Davidson NE, Sacchini V, McCormick B. Cancer of the breast. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 91.
Review Date 3/13/2015
Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.