How is a breast biopsy performed?

A breast biopsy is a procedure in which your doctor will numb the skin over an area of your breast where there is a lump or abnormal finding on a mammogram or ultrasound. He or she will make a small cut and pass a needle into the breast tissue to obtain a sample of tissue to test. A breast biopsy can be performed using special x-ray machines, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or with an ultrasound. These are used to obtain images to ensure the concerning area is biopsied.

A doctor can usually perform a needle biopsy in the office. A local anesthetic is injected into the breast, and light suction is applied through a hollow needle inserted into the lump to remove a sample of tissue or aspirate fluid. Disappearance of the lump after fluid is withdrawn usually indicates a benign cyst. Nevertheless, the fluid may be sent to a laboratory for analysis.

If no abnormal cells are found, no further tests are required. In some cases, a surgical excision may be necessary. This procedure entails removal of the lump and small amounts of surrounding tissues for laboratory analysis. A surgical biopsy usually is done in a hospital (often as out-patient surgery) using either local or general anesthesia. About 80 percent of biopsies show no cancerous cells.

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