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’s not cancer, you will have follow-up tests.
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 removes cells or tissue from the suspicious area of the breast. The cells or tissue are studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
Learn more about follow-up after an abnormal mammogram or clinical breast exam.
Although a biopsy can be scary, most breast biopsies in the U.S. don’t show cancer .
Still, a biopsy is needed to know whether or not something is cancer.
If breast cancer is found, it can be treated. With standard treatment, breast cancers that are found early have a high chance of survival.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment.
There are two main types of biopsies used to diagnose (or rule out) breast cancer:
Your provider will decide which type of biopsy is best for your case.
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
A needle biopsy uses a hollow needle to remove samples of tissue or cells from the breast.
A pathologist studies these samples under a microscope to see if they contain cancer. If they do, more tests will be done to help you and your health care provider plan your treatment (learn more).
Needle biopsies can be used to study a:
There are two types of needle biopsies:
Learn more about core needle biopsy.
Learn more about fine needle aspiration.
A surgical biopsy is the most accurate way to diagnose breast cancer and get complete information about the tumor.
Learn more about surgical biopsies.
In some cases, a biopsy can miss breast cancer.
A needle biopsy can miss breast cancer if the needle takes a sample of tissue or cells from the wrong area or if there is a problem with the sample.
Even when samples are taken from the correct area, false negative results can occur if the pathologist misinterprets tissue or cells as benign (not cancer) when in fact, they are cancer.
Learn more about needle biopsies.
With surgical biopsies, it is less likely breast cancer will be missed.
However, a surgical biopsy can miss breast cancer if the wrong area of tissue is removed.
The use of needle- and wire-localization procedures before the biopsy and X-rays of tissue samples after the biopsy help limit this problem.
You should feel comfortable getting a second opinion before your biopsy or after, when you have the results.
Most health plans allow you to get a second opinion, as long as the second health care provider is a member of your health plan.
Learn more about getting a second opinion.
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.
Breast Cancer 101 - Discovery and Biopsy
Core Needle Biopsy Video
Ultrasound Guided Breast Biopsy Video
Surgical Biopsy Video
Facts for Life: Biopsy
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Breast Biopsy
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