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 breast 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 is the only test that can diagnose breast cancer.
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, people with breast cancers found early have a high chance of survival.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment.
There are 2 main types of biopsies:
A core needle biopsy (a type of needle biopsy) is the standard method used to diagnose (or rule out) breast cancer. In some cases, a surgical biopsy is done.
Learn more about 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, the pathologist will do further tests to learn about your cancer. This information helps you and your health care provider plan your treatment.
Needle biopsies can be used to study a:
There are 2 types of needle biopsies:
Learn about factors that affect prognosis and treatment.
A surgical biopsy can diagnose breast cancer and get complete information about the tumor.
Learn more about surgical biopsies.
Learn more about talking with your health care provider.
It may be helpful to download and print Susan G. Komen®'s Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Breast Biopsies card and take it with you to your next appointment. There’s plenty of space to write down the answers to these questions, which you can refer to later.
You can also download other Questions to Ask Your Doctor cards on many different breast cancer topics.
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's a problem with the sample.
Even when samples are taken from the correct area, false negative results can occur if the pathologist misinterprets the tissue or cells as benign (not cancer) when in fact, they're cancer.
With surgical biopsies, it's 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.
Breast cancer is complex. You may want to get 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 [2-4].
Surgical and needle biopsies do not cause breast cancer to spread [2-4].
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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