Breast Biopsy

Breast Biopsy

A breast biopsy is a procedure used to diagnose breast cancer or other abnormal breast changes that appear on an imaging test or physical exam. During the procedure, a small amount of tissue is removed from the breast and is then examined by a pathologist under a microscope to check for the presence of cancer.

Preparation for a Breast Biopsy

Before the procedure, your doctor will discuss the test details and what to expect. He or she will also likely advise you to start taking anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, a few days before the biopsy to reduce any swelling or discomfort.


A breast biopsy is typically done on an outpatient basis, so you may be allowed to go home shortly afterwards. During the procedure, your doctor may give you a local anesthetic to numb the biopsy site and may inject a mild sedative to help you relax.

The doctor will then insert a biopsy needle into the area to collect cells or tissue. The sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing. Depending on the biopsy type, the procedure may take anywhere from a few seconds to about 30 minutes.

Types of Breast Biopsy

  • Fine-Needle Aspiration Biopsy: Fine-needle aspiration involves using a thin needle attached to a syringe to withdraw fluid and a few cells from a mass. This procedure is relatively quick and does not require stitches.
  • Core Needle Biopsy: Core needle biopsy is performed with a larger needle and collects a sample of tissue for pathology testing.
  • Surgical Biopsy: This type of biopsy, usually done in an operating room, is used to remove an entire tumor or a larger piece of tissue for examination.


As with any medical procedure, there are risks, including infection, bleeding, bruising, and a reaction to the anesthesia. There are also potential risks to the actual biopsy, such as the inability to obtain sufficient tissue for diagnosis or the possibility of “sampling error”—when a biopsy misses cancer that is present.

Why Have a Breast Biopsy?

Your doctor may suggest a breast biopsy if he or she detects a lump, a suspicious mass or an abnormality on a mammogram. It is also sometimes used to confirm a diagnosis after a core needle biopsy or fine needle aspiration biopsy is performed and the results are inconclusive.

When to Consider a Breast Biopsy

If you experience any of the following symptoms, discuss them with your doctor:

  • Lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  • Changes in breast size or shape
  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Nipple discharge
  • Nipple tenderness or the nipple turning inward
  • Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin

Your doctor may order a mammogram, X-ray, ultrasound, or other imaging test in order to assess the area of concern. Depending on the results of the imaging, he or she may then suggest a biopsy.