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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Diagnosis > Biopsies





When You Discover a Lump
Fact Sheet


Breast Cancer 101 (Interactive Multimedia) - Discovery and Biopsy
Macromedia Flash

At some point in your life, you may have a lump or change in your breast or an abnormal finding on a mammogram. To make sure it is not cancer, you will have follow-up tests.

Learn more about follow-up after an abnormal mammogram or clinical breast exam.

Biopsies and breast cancer diagnosis

In many cases, breast cancer can be ruled out with a diagnostic mammogram, breast ultrasound or breast MRI. However, if cancer can't be ruled out, you will need to have a biopsy.

A biopsy involves removing cells or tissue from the suspicious area of the breast. The cells or tissue are studied under a microscope to see if they show cancer.

If you need to have a biopsy, don’t panic. Having a biopsy can be scary, but keep in mind that most breast biopsies in the U.S. do not show cancer [1]. Still, a biopsy is needed to know if something is cancer or not.

If breast cancer is found, it can be treated. When breast cancer is found early, the chances for survival are highest. Learn more about breast cancer treatment.

Types of biopsies

There are two main types of biopsies used to diagnose breast cancer:

  • Needle biopsies. With a needle biopsy, a health care provider removes tissue or cells with a needle.

  • Surgical biopsies. With a surgical biopsy, a surgeon makes a cut (incision) in the breast to remove tissue.

Your provider will determine which type of biopsy is the best way to rule out or confirm breast cancer. Most often, a needle biopsy is done first (then, if needed, a surgical biopsy is done).

Learn more about the advantages and drawbacks of each type of biopsy in Figure 4.1


Figure 4.1:
Risks and Benefits of Needle Biopsy versus Surgical Biopsy

Breast biopsies do not cause cancer to spread

It is a myth that exposing breast cancer to air during surgery or cutting through the cancer might cause it to spread. Surgical and needle biopsies do not cause breast cancer to spread.

Updated 05/14/14 


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