Breast Cancer Biopsies

Breast biopsies are necessary because while a breast lump may be detected in a physical breast exam or a mammogram, it may not be possible to tell if a breast mass is non-cancerous (benign), or malignant. Most breast biopsies reveal benign, non-cancerous results. There are two types of non-surgical biopsies:

Stereotactic (X-ray-Guided) Breast Biopsy

Stereotactic breast biopsies are sometimes necessary when mammography shows a mass, a cluster of microcalicifications (tiny calcium deposits closely grouped together) or another area of abnormal breast tissue that the mammogram cannot definitively show is benign. If this is the case, it may be necessary to obtain a tissue sample that can be examined microscopically to detect breast cancer cells.

In stereotactic breast biopsy, a needle pierces the skin and goes into the suspicious region in your breast to obtain a tissue sample. A specialized digital mammography machine pinpoints the suspicious area. The procedure gets its name – stereotactic breast biopsy – because it uses two intersecting coordinates to locate where to place the needle. It is a much less invasive procedure than a full surgical breast biopsy.

A pathologist will examine the tissue sample taken during your breast biopsy to reach a final diagnosis so treatment planning can begin – usually by the following work day. Expert pathologists at our Breast Care Center evaluate all breast biopsy tissue samples.

Ultrasound-Guided Breast Biopsy

In ultrasound-guided breast biopsies, the ultrasound images will pinpoint where the breast abnormality is so cells can be collected and analyzed.

Ultrasound-guided biopsies take less time than stereotactic breast biopsies. This method is used when the breast abnormality can be detected with ultrasound.

An ultrasound-guided breast biopsy uses an ultrasound probe moving across your breast that allows the radiologist to carefully guide a needle to the precise location of the breast mass. Like stereotactic biopsy, it is a much less invasive procedure than a full surgical breast biopsy.

A pathologist will examine the tissue sample to reach a final diagnosis so treatment planning can begin – usually within two to three days. Expert pathologists at our Breast Care Center evaluate all breast biopsy tissue samples.

Preparing for and Having a Breast Biopsy

Stereotactic (X-Ray-Guided) Breast Biopsy

Breast cancer is not found in most women who undergo a biopsy of their breast tissue. Stereotactic breast biopsies are minimally invasive, but anytime a needle penetrates your skin, there is a risk of bleeding, so you should have a friend or relative accompany you for support and then drive you home afterwards. Although the procedure itself only takes about 30 minutes, you will be in our department for about an hour and a half. Most patients experience only minor discomfort during the procedure.

  • Discontinue use of aspirin, ibuprofen or blood thinners three days before your breast biopsy. Make sure you consult with your physician first.
  • Relax. Your mammography technician and the radiologist performing the biopsy are well trained and will ensure your breast biopsy goes as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • There are no diet restrictions; you do not need to fast before a stereotactic (x-ray-guided) breast biopsy.
  • On the day of your breast biopsy do not apply lotions, deodorant, powder or perfume to your underarms or breasts. They can show up on mammograms and make needle placement more difficult.
  • Be prepared to remove all jewelry and undress from the waist up and wear a comfortable robe we provide.
  • You will be asked to lie on a special table, with an opening that, allows your breast to hang through. Your breast will be positioned and compressed in much the same way as for a regular mammogram.
  • Two images – stereotactic – will be taken to pinpoint the area for biopsy.
  • A local anesthetic will be used to numb your breast so the level of discomfort is typically only minor.
  • A special needle will then be used to collect the tissue samples needed for analysis.
  • Over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen (initially) and aspirin or ibuprofen (later) should help with any residual soreness. If there is excessive swelling, bleeding, drainage, redness or heat in your breast after the biopsy, call your doctor.
  • A pathologist at our Breast Care Center will evaluate the breast biopsy tissue sample and forward results to your physician, usually within about 48 hours.

Ultrasound-Guided Breast Biopsy

Ultrasound-guided breast biopsies are minimally invasive, but anytime a needle penetrates your skin, there is a risk of bleeding, so you should have a friend or relative accompany you for support and then drive you home afterwards. You may be uncomfortable and experience some slight localized soreness during the procedure.

  • Discontinue use of aspirin, ibuprofen or blood thinners three days before your breast biopsy. Make sure you consult with your physician first.
  • Relax. Your ultrasound technician and the radiologist performing the breast biopsy procedure are highly trained and will ensure your breast biopsy goes as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • There are no diet restrictions; you do not need to fast before an ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.
  • You will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a comfortable robe that supply.
  • You will be asked to lie down either on your back or slightly on your side.
  • A local anesthetic will be used to numb your breast so the level of discomfort is typically minor.
  • A clear gel will be applied to your breast and the technician will move the probe back and forth to get a clear ultrasound image of the breast abnormality.
  • The radiologist will use a special breast biopsy needle to collect the tissue samples needed for analysis. The doctor will be able to watch in real-time as the needle is inserted into the lump.
  • Over-the-counter pain medicine such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen should help with any residual soreness from breast biopsies. If there is excessive swelling, bleeding, drainage, redness or heat in your breast after the biopsy, call your doctor.
  • A pathologist at our Breast Care Center will evaluate the tissue sample taken during your breast biopsy and forward results to the physician, usually within about 48 hours.