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Breast Biopsy

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Breast biopsy facts

  • A breast biopsy procedure is usually done to determine whether a growth in the breast is cancerous or benign.
  • A lump or other sign of breast cancer in a man or woman may warrant a breast biopsy.
  • A breast biopsy can be done with a needle or by a surgical procedure.
  • Nonsurgical biopsies tend to be less stressful and minimize the risk of complications.
  • Nonsurgical biopsies are not always as reliable as surgical biopsies in producing a conclusive diagnosis.
  • The breast biopsy may be done with imaging guidance.

What is a breast biopsy?

A breast biopsy is a procedure in which part or all of a suspicious area in the breast is removed and examined, usually for the presence of breast cancer. The growth sample is suctioned out through a needle or cut out using a surgical procedure. A pathologist then examines and evaluates it under a microscope to identify noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant) tissue.

Words used to refer to the abnormal area or growth before and after diagnosis may include lump, mass, lesion, calcification, and tumor.

Imaging studies such as mammography or ultrasound may be used to guide the procedure.

The following are the different types of breast biopsy procedures:

  • Fine-needle aspiration: a thin needle is used to suction out cells from an abnormal area
  • Hollow or core needle: This thicker needle is used to remove a small cylinder of tissue from the abnormal area.
  • Biopsy with a vacuum-powered device
  • Surgical excision of tissue

What is the purpose of a breast biopsy?

The breast biopsy is used to determine whether or not a worrisome abnormality or area of calcification is cancer and, if it is cancer, what type it is and how to develop a treatment plan. When no breast cancer is detected, the diagnosis of a benign or harmless lump is reassuring.

What specialties of physicians and other health care professionals perform breast biopsies?

Many physicians and health care professionals can be involved in evaluating a woman for a breast biopsy.

  • For example, breast abnormalities during a physical examination might be noticed by a family physician, internist, gynecologist, or nurse practitioner. Women themselves are frequently the first to detect abnormalities in their breasts.
  • Radiologists are specialists in interpreting X-rays such as mammograms, as well as other imaging studies. Radiologists or surgeons often perform the procedure to obtain these breast tissue samples.
  • Anesthesiologists (specialists in administering anesthesia and monitoring a patient's vital signs) are sometimes necessary during some surgical procedures.
  • Pathologists are physician specialists who examine and identify under a microscope the type of cells in the samples and determine whether or not cancer is present.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/5/2016


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