A breast biopsy is the removal of breast tissue to examine it for signs of breast cancer or other disorders. Different types of biopsy may be done. One type called stereotactic breast biopsy uses mammography to help pinpoint the spot in the breast that needs to be removed.
Biopsy - breast - stereotactic; Core needle breast biopsy - stereotactic; Stereotactic breast biopsy
How the test is performed
You are asked to undress from the waist up.
You are most likely be asked to lie facing down on the biopsy table. The breast that is being biopsied hangs through an opening in the table. The table is raised and the doctor will perform the biopsy from underneath. In some cases, stereotactic breast biopsy is done while the woman sits in an upright position.
A stereotactic biopsy includes the following steps:
The health care provider first cleans the area on your breast. Numbing medicine is injected. This may sting a bit.
The breast is pressed down to hold it in position during the procedure. You need to hold still while the biopsy is being performed.
The doctor makes a very small cut on your breast over the area that needs to be biopsied.
Using a special machine, a needle or sheath is guided to the exact location of the abnormal area. Several samples of breast tissue are taken.
A small metal clip may be placed into the breast in the biopsy area. The clip marks it for surgical biopsy later, if needed.
The biopsy itself is done using one of the following:
Fine needle aspiration
Hollow needle (called a core needle)
Both a needle and vacuum-powered device
The procedure usually takes about 1 hour. This includes the time it takes for the x-rays. The actual biopsy takes only several minutes.
After 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 will be applied to absorb any fluid. Stitches are not needed. Adhesive strips may be placed over any wound, if needed.
How to prepare for the test
The health care provider will ask about your medical history. A breast exam may be done.
You must sign an informed consent.
If you take medicines (including aspirin or herbal remedies), ask your doctor whether you need to stop taking these before the biopsy.
Tell your doctor if you may be pregnant before having an open biopsy.
Do not use lotion, perfume, powder, or deodorant underneath your arms or on your breasts.
How the test will feel
You may feel a sharp, stinging sensation when the local anesthetic is injected. During the procedure, you may feel slight discomfort or light pressure.
Lying on your stomach for up to 1 hour may be uncomfortable. Using cushions or pillows may help. Some patients are given a pill to help relax them before the procedure.
After the test, the breast may be sore and tender for several days. Do not do any heavy lifting or work with your arms for 24 hours after the biopsy. You can use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief.
Why the test is performed
Stereotactic breast biopsy is used when a small growth or calcifications are seen on a mammogram, but cannot be seen using an ultrasound of the breast.
The tissue samples are sent to a pathologist to be examined.
A normal result means there is no sign of cancer.
Your doctor or nurse will let you know when you need a follow-up mammogram or other tests.
What abnormal results mean
If the biopsy shows benign breast tissue without cancer, you will likley not need surgery.
Sometimes the biopsy results show abnormal signs that are not cancer. In this case, a surgical biopsy might be recommended to remove the whole abnormal area for examination. Biopsy results may show:
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 results of the biopsy, you may need further surgery or treatment.
Your health care provider will discuss the meaning of the biopsy results with you.
What the risks are
There is a slight chance of infection at the injection or surgical cut site.
Bruising is common. But excessive bleeding is rare, in which case may require draining or re-bandaging.
Abeloff MD, Wolff AC, Weber BL, et al. Cancer of the breast. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKena WG, eds. Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill-Livingstone; 2008:chap 95.
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.
Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.