A breast biopsy is a procedure in which a doctor removes a small amount of tissue or fluid from your breast in order to examine it under a microscope for signs of cancer. Your doctor will usually recommend a biopsy if there’s a lump in your breast or something suspicious on your mammogram or ultrasound scan. About 80 percent of biopsies show that no cancer is present. If the mass seems likely to be harmless, you may be given the option of waiting a few months instead to see whether anything changes. Ask lots of questions and trust your instincts.
What can the doctor tell from looking at your tissue sample?
By examining your cells, a pathologist can tell whether they’re cancerous and, if so, roughly how advanced the cancer is.
Further lab tests may reveal more about the cancer — whether its cells will respond to hormone treatment, for instance (this happens more frequently in postmenopausal women).
How is a biopsy done?
The type of biopsy you’ll have depends on the size, number, and location of the lumps that have been discovered. Your doctor may recommend a fine-needle aspiration first since it’s the least invasive of the lot, can be done in the doctor’s office, and requires only local anesthesia.
The doctor inserts a very thin needle attached to a syringe into the lump to see if it’s solid or filled with fluid. (If the lump is hard to locate, the doctor may use an ultrasound to guide the needle into the mass.) If there’s clear fluid inside the mass, it’s probably a harmless benign cyst, but it should be analyzed just to make sure.
In rare cases, bloody or cloudy fluid may mean cancer. If the mass is solid, and the pathologist finds no cancer cells, the tumor must be investigated further because cancer cells may have been missed.
A further biopsy in which more tissue is removed is always necessary just to make certain the tumor is cancer-free.
In a core-needle biopsy, the doctor uses a thicker needle (about 1/16 to 1/8 inch in diameter) to remove a larger amount of tissue. This is also an outpatient procedure that requires only local anesthesia. It will probably take the lab about two days to