Breast biopsy


A breast biopsy is the removal of breast tissue for examination by a pathologist. This can be accomplished surgically or by extracting, or withdrawing, tissue through a needle.


A biopsy is recommended when a significant abnormality is found by physical examination or an imaging test. Examples of an abnormality can include a breast

During a needle biopsy on the breast, a local anesthetic is used, and a needle with a looped end is inserted into the potential tumor (A). A sample is taken (B), and the needle withdrawn (C). The sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis. (Illustration by GGS Inc.)
During a needle biopsy on the breast, a local anesthetic is used, and a needle with a looped end is inserted into the potential tumor (A). A sample is taken (B), and the needle withdrawn (C). The sample is sent to a laboratory for analysis. (
Illustration by GGS Inc.
lump felt during physical self-examination or tissue changes noticed from a mammogram test. Before a biopsy is performed, it is important to make sure that the threat of cancer cannot be ruled out by a simpler, less invasive examination. A lump may be obviously harmless when examined by ultrasound. If less invasive tests are not conclusive, the presence of cancer or a variety of benign breast conditions can be determined by using a biopsy.


The American Cancer Society estimated that in 2003, 211,300 new cases of breast cancer would be diagnosed in the United States and 39,800 women would die as a result of breast cancer. Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in her life. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age: women ages 30–40 have a one-in-252 chance, women ages 40–50 a one-in-68 chance, women ages 50–60 a one-in-35 chance, and women ages 60–70 a one-in-27 chance.

In the 1990s, the incidence of breast cancer was higher among Caucasian women (113.1 cases per 100,000 women) than African American women (100.3 per 100,000). The death rate associated with breast cancer, however, was higher among African American women (29.6 per 100,000) than Caucasian women (22.2 per 100,000). Death rates were lower among Hispanic women (14.2 per 100,000), Native American women (12.0), and Asian women (11.2 per 100,000).


The type of biopsy recommended will depend on whether the area can be felt, how well it can be seen on mammogram or ultrasound, and how suspicious it feels or appears. Specialized equipment is needed for different types of biopsy and availability may vary.

Surgical biopsy

There are two major types of surgical breast biopsy: excisional and incisional. An excisional biopsy is a surgical procedure where the entire area of concern and some surrounding tissue is removed. It is usually done as an outpatient procedure in a hospital or freestanding surgery center. The patient may be awake and is sometimes given medication to make her drowsy. The area to be operated on is numbed with local anesthetic. Infrequently, general anesthesia is used. An excisional biopsy itself usually takes under one hour to perform. The total amount of time spent at the facility depends on the type of anesthesia used, whether a needle localization was done, and the extent of the surgery.

If a mass is very large, an incisional biopsy may be performed. In this case, only a portion of the area is removed and sent for analysis. The procedure is the same as an excisional biopsy in other respects.

Needle biopsy

A needle biopsy removes part of the suspicious area for examination. There are two types: aspiration biopsy (using a fine needle) and large-core needle biopsy. Either of these may be called a percutaneous needle biopsy. Percutaneous refers to a procedure done through the skin.

A fine-needle aspiration biopsy uses a very thin needle to withdraw fluid and cells that can be studied. It can be done in a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital. Local anesthetic may be used, but is sometimes withheld, as its administration may be more painful than the biopsy needle. The area to place the needle may be located by touch without using specialized equipment. However, ultrasound guidance enables the physician to feel and see the lesion at the same time. The actual withdrawal of fluid and cells can be visualized as it occurs. This helps ensure that the specimen is taken from the right place.

A large-core needle biopsy uses a larger diameter needle to remove small pieces of tissue, usually about the size of a grain of rice. It can be done in a clinic or hospital that has the appropriate facilities. Local anesthetic is routinely used. Ultrasound or x ray is used for guidance of a large-core needle biopsy.

If the suspicious area is seen best with x ray, a stereotactic device is used. This means that x rays are taken from several angles. The information is fed into a computer that analyzes the data and guides the needle to the correct place. The patient may be sitting up, or she may be lying on her stomach, with her breast positioned through an opening in the table. The breast is held firmly but comfortably between a plastic paddle and a metal plate, similar to those used for mammograms. X rays may be taken before, during, and after the tissue is drawn into the needle to confirm that the correct spot is biopsied. This procedure may also be referred to as a stereotactic core biopsy, or a mammotomy.

Ultrasound is used to guide needle placement for some lesions. The patient lies on her back or side. After the area is numbed, sterile gel is applied. The physician places a transducer, an instrument about the size of an electric shaver, over the skin. This produces an image from the reflection of sound waves. A special needle, usually in a spring-loaded device, is used to obtain the tissue. The procedure is observed on a monitor as it is happening.

An abnormal pathology report indicates a cancer is present. If a fine-needle aspiration biopsy was performed, the pathologist has viewed individual cells under a microscope to see if they appear cancerous. Large-core needle biopsy and surgical biopsy will be able to give more information. This includes the type of cancer, whether or not it has invaded surrounding tissue, and how likely it is to spread quickly. There are some conditions that are not malignant but indicate high risk for future development of breast cancer. If these are identified, more frequent monitoring of the area may be recommended.


Sometimes an abnormality can be palpated during a self-examination or an examination by a health care professional. If an abnormality is not felt, there are other signs that indicate the need for medical attention. These include:

If the abnormality cannot be located easily, a wire localization may be done before the actual surgery. After local anesthetic is administered, a fine wire is placed in the area of concern. Either x ray or ultrasound guidance is used. The wire can then be followed to the area of concern. The patient is awake and usually sitting up.

A surgical breast biopsy may require the patient to have nothing to eat or drink for a period of time before the operation. This will typically be from midnight the night before, if general anesthesia is planned. No food restrictions are necessary for needle biopsy, although it is advisable to eat lightly before the procedure. This is especially important if the patient will be lying on her stomach for a stereotactic biopsy.


After a surgical biopsy, the incision will be closed with stitches and covered with a bandage. The bandage can usually be removed in one or two days. Stitches are taken out approximately one week afterward. Depending on the extent of the operation, normal activities can be resumed in approximately one to three days. Vigorous exercise may be limited for one to three weeks.

The skin opening for a needle biopsy is minimal. It may be closed with thin, clear tape (called a steri-strip) or covered with a small bandage. The patient can return to her usual routine immediately after the biopsy. Strenuous activity or heavy lifting is not recommended for 24 hours. Any bandages can be removed one or two days after the biopsy.


Infection is always a possibility when the skin is broken, although this rarely occurs. Redness, swelling, or severe pain at the biopsy site would indicate a possible infection. Another possible consequence of a breast biopsy is a hematoma. This is a collection of blood at the biopsy site; the body usually absorbs blood naturally. If the hematoma is very large and uncomfortable, it may need to be drained. A surgical breast biopsy may produce a visible scar on the breast, which may make future mammograms harder to interpret accurately.

A false negative pathology report is another risk. This means that no cancer was found when cancer was actually present. The incidence of this varies with the biopsy technique. In general, fine-needle aspiration biopsies have the highest rate of false negative results, but there may be variation in results between facilities.

Normal results

A normal pathology report indicates no malignancy is present. The tissue sample may be further classified as a benign breast condition, including tumor of the breast (fibroadenoma) and connective tissue that resembles fiber (fibrosis). Studies have demonstrated that approximately 80% of all breast biopsies result in a benign pathology report.

Morbidity and mortality rates

The reported rate of complications for image-guided percutaneous biopsy ranges is approximately 2%. Excessive bleeding occurs after approximately 0.5% of fine needle biopsies, 3% of small needle biopsies, and 5% to 10% of large needle biopsies. Infection occurs in approximately 1% of biopsy sites. Organ damage such as a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) occurs in approximately 0.5% of biopsies.


While a biopsy is the only way to determine definitively if a breast abnormality is cancerous, there are a number of procedures that may be used to rule out cancer so that a biopsy is not necessary. These include mammography , ultrasound imaging, and ductography (used for imaging the breast ducts and diagnosing the cause of abnormal nipple discharges).



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Recent Trends in Mortality Rates for Four Major Cancers, by Sex and Race/Ethnicity." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 51, no. 3 (January 25, 2002): 49–53.

Marks, James S. and Nancy C. Lee. "Implementing Recommendations for the Early Detection of Breast and Cervical Cancer Among Low-income Women." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49, no. RR02 (March 31, 2000): 35–55.


American Cancer Society. 1599 Clifton Rd., NE, Atlanta, GA 30329-4251. (800) 227-2345. .

National Cancer Institute. Building 31, Room 10A31, 31 Center Drive, MSC 2580, Bethesda, MD 20892-2580. (800) 422-6237. .


Cardella, John F., et al. "Quality Improvement Guidelines for

Image-Guided Percutaneous Biopsy in Adults." Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology. November/December 1996 [cited March 11, 2003]. .

"How is Breast Cancer Diagnosed?" American Cancer Society. 2003 [cited March 11, 2003]. .

"Lifetime Probability of Breast Cancer in American Women." National Cancer Institute. September 13, 2002 [cited March 11, 2003]. .

Ellen S. Weber, MSN Stephanie Dionne Sherk


The breast biopsy is usually performed by a surgeon or a radiologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the use of imaging techniques for diagnosis or treatment. The extracted tissue samples are analyzed by a pathologist, a medical doctor who has completed specialized training in the diagnosis of diseases from microscopic analysis of cells and tissues. Surgical biopsies are generally performed at a hospital or surgery center. Because needle biopsies are less invasive, they may be performed at a doctor's office, clinic, or hospital.


Also read article about Breast Biopsy from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

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Nov 18, 2008 @ 6:06 am
hi...i would like to know if a second opinion from a pathologist is needed after i had my first mammography, ultrasound and fine needle test a month ago...please reply my question and send it to my e-mail address. thank you very much!
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Jul 12, 2010 @ 5:05 am
I ve done biopsy as ultrasound detected abnormal tissue. So is there chances of brest cancer.
Dunc Petrie
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Oct 15, 2010 @ 7:19 pm
My wife has had a repeat of a suspicious mammogram. An ultrasound was also performed.
She is scheduled to meet with a surgeon ref biopsy.

My wife & I both understand the "mechanics" of various biopsy procedures. We are more interested in the results of excisional vs aspiration vs large bore needle biopsy. Her lesion is small (
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Jan 13, 2011 @ 9:09 am
Accreditation in all of this is key - from personnel to equipment. However, no one seems to discuss the long-term effects of having the breast invaded, and the resultant physiologic responses in the first place.

Too many false positive results from poor and questionably-performed imaging are not only resulting in altering the normal functioning of the body, but reducing the quality of life to an ongoing cancer-hunt - even if there is no malignancy found.
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Apr 14, 2011 @ 9:21 pm
how can a nurse call at 5:30 pm in the day 04.14.2011 to report that the doctor knows the results of the breast biopsy but has sent it out for a secound opion. Then when we asked what the results of the first biopsy was the nurse stated she could not tell us on the phone only the doctor could.

I am now bewildered has anyone ever had this happen?
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May 5, 2011 @ 10:22 pm
i just had an incisional breast biopsy done now waiting for results
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May 11, 2011 @ 1:01 am
Is it normal to lose feeling in arm but yet have severe pain after biopsy
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Jun 30, 2011 @ 3:15 pm
Hi, I just had a biopsy about 2-3 wks ago now. I have developed a hard mass around where the incition was made. I was wondering if this is normal? Thank you k
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Feb 8, 2012 @ 5:17 pm
My surgeon said my biopsy was fibrometeosis but after surgery they said the pathology have sent it to another pathology for second opinion why is this is the anything ringing them alarm bells
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Feb 16, 2012 @ 9:09 am
I didn't want a biopsy due to the fact that there is an 80% chance of being benign and it is invasive to the breast, for a 2mm micro-calcification, this is so small, I wanted to wait for a while and follow up with mammogram to see if anything changed. No-one would tell me what would happen if I waited, they all said they "didn't know". This is ridiculous, how many women have they treated, thousands? And they "don't know"? Now, 4 weeks after having had the biopsy, because they made me feel so guilty in not having it done, I am in pain from the incision sight where there is now a large hard bump, which I found out online was a hematoma, no doctor or nurse told me this could happen. When I recently called to discuss it with them, they said, "Oh, yes, that is not unusual, we hear that frequently, massage the area, scar tissue does build up there, it is a very common occurrence". But they didn't tell me that ahead of time. I was reading that injury to the breast can cause cancer, when I asked them about the biopsy is causing injury to my breast which can cause cancer, they said there was no proof of that. I wonder if there are any studies out there on this subject. When I asked what it cost for the biopsy procedure, they also "didn't know", after inquiring more, it was $ 7,000.00. Just like a sales pitch, they said "what are you reasons for not having a biopsy?" There was never a mention about the severe breast pain for months afterwards, never having a problem with my breast, this was a quality of life issue, not a cost issue, as I have insurance, thankfully. I wonder if they pressure women as much who have no insurance to have the biopsy done for $ 7K and put the women in debt for life with an 80% favorable outcome? When the nurse called after the biopsy, she also stated she had the results, but could not tell me, WTF? Only the doctor could tell me...unbelievable!
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Aug 21, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
I just had a biopsy about weeks ago now.I have tdeveloped a hard mass around where the incision was made and there also has some black thing came of my breast.I was wondering if this is normal? Please send to my email address. THANK YOU.
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Oct 8, 2014 @ 9:21 pm
I had a biopsy of my right breast about 15 years ago, when I was 35. My mother, her mother, and I have fibrocystic breasts. Mammograms are of no use because I have dense tissue and I already know I have lumps--some of which were there when I was 13. In any case, medical staff made me feel frightened and guilty about not wanting a biopsy. Ever since the biopsy--for the past 15 years--I have had constant pain in my right breast where they performed the biopsy. This pain has increased my fears of cancer--which I had previously never thought of--as well as caused physical discomfort in my daily life. I recently read that it is possible to cause nerve damage with biopsies. Why the hell was this never disclosed when they went over the informed consent forms? I wish I had never had the biopsy. The lump didn't even look suspicious. They only do this to cover their own asses.
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Mar 1, 2015 @ 11:23 pm
I had no breast pain or any other issues prior to my biopsy..the doctor found a lump on my left breast and recommended the biopsy. The results were good but now 3 months after the procedure I am having quite bit of pain and discomfort that I never had before! Nothing was ever said or explained to me that this might happen! No breast pain before in my life and now I feel pain every day!
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Apr 1, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
I had a needle biopsy 9 months ago. At the same time, they inserted a titanium marker. Thankfully no cancer found but on my 6 monthly check up, there was a dark area found around the area of the marker. Another biopsy was performed, thankfully once again, no cancer, but I have been told that I have extensive fibrosis and now need an operation to remove it. I am not happy. I had the all clear 6 months ago, I now have a problem that has been caused by these invasive procedures (not sure if it's the marker or the biopsies that have caused it). I was fit and healthy and I am now told that my chance of getting breast cancer is now elevated!
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Jun 18, 2015 @ 3:03 am
I had e biopsy test month ago. Before I don't have any pain. 3 doctor not recommended. But one doctor strongly recommended I have to go biopsy. Now I had big problem my both breast. I saw doctor they give me antibiotic but now I can't touch and sleep my both side. I have to go back to again(:: I am so sad done biapcy
Loretta rood
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Sep 18, 2015 @ 10:10 am
I had a breast biopsy done last week. No cancer found but a marker was inserted. My doc called and reading between the lines he thought i should have it removed. Its placed there to easily find the cancer if there is cancer. Screw that. If there is a Next time no marker. To remove it he said requires surgery and i cant find any info on having it removed online. Has anyone had one removed and what did it involve? I trust my doc but dont trust companies who provide markers or drugs. They are in the business of making money. If they cure disease they are out of business.
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Nov 13, 2015 @ 12:12 pm
I had a breast biopsy done because of a bloody discharge coming from my nipple. Even though the mammogram and sonograms showed nothing they said there was still a chance there could be something hiding behind my nipple. During the biopsy, the surgeon cut off the nerves and the blood supply to my nipple. My nipple died and had to be removed. Is this a common occurence? We were told it was going to be small with a copper wire inserted. I have close to a two in scar and have no lost my nipple! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
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Jan 28, 2016 @ 5:17 pm
I had a surgical biopsy a little over a year ago due to microcalcifications found on my very first mammo ever. In the last two weeks, the same breast is quite uncomfortable, achey, and quite tender to touch. I don't see or "feel" anything on personal examination, but I'm concerned. Is this normal? The surgeon had told me I'm cancer free, BUT, I have very active tissue. My last mammo was 2 months ago and came back clean. Any information regarding the current pain would be greatly appreciated.
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Feb 22, 2016 @ 9:09 am
I had a needle biopsy 10 years ago. At the same time they inserted a Titanium marker.My results were Benign fibroadenoma. I have constant pain, with arm and hand going numb. I have been to 2 breast specialist and5 doctors. I keep telling them It is nerve pain and the marker is causing it. Who can remove the marker and what can I do for nerve pain.
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Mar 21, 2016 @ 8:08 am
i had an incisional biopsy done over a month ago. I still feel the area hard and sometimes there is pain associated near the site. I spoke to the surgeon who has order a new mammo in 3 months but Im concerned about the pain. Is that normal? And all she did was send me to get physical therapy since I am allergic to most pain medications. I had surgery on both breast , she could not find the pin on one side so she left it in. I just want to know if that is normal and how many more mammograms does it take before I only have to have an annual one.
Cynthia P
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Apr 24, 2016 @ 9:09 am
I had a core biopsy 5 days ago because my breast doctor specialist recommended it for based on the ultrasound and mamogram result, i have a breast cancer. Before the extraction of tissue the mass in my right breast was very hard that even the doctor doing the extraction find it hard to do that thing. After the extraction, i noticed that the mass has softened. My question is, does the softening of the mass means the cancer cells scattered because the mass is now open? Pls send ur answer to my email address. Thank you for this opportunity.
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Jun 29, 2016 @ 11:23 pm
8 days after a stereiowhatever biopsy, I have a rock hard lump the size of an egg inside my breast--really hurts. It is not getting smaller. How can these breast people possibly do this shit to women. Seattle Breast Clinic has said nothing, told me nothing about such an outcome. I am outraged! Will this cause me permanent damage? I have had Zero breast issues in my life until this.
Tina lowry
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Jul 19, 2016 @ 9:09 am
I recently had a surgical core biopsy and the radiologist did not numb my breast. The first time she put the guided needle through my breast she did not get it in the right place. She said she had to do it again and I told her I need to lay down. They had to get a stretcher and wipe me down with cold rags,I was trying to faint. Why was I not numbed?
Tina lowry
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Jul 20, 2016 @ 5:05 am
I recently had a surgical core biopsy and the radiologist did not numb my breast. The first time she put the guided needle through my breast she did not get it in the right place. She said she had to do it again and I told her I need to lay down. They had to get a stretcher and wipe me down with cold rags,I was trying to faint. Why was I not numbed?
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Aug 31, 2016 @ 2:14 pm
I had a biospy with large needle were lye down stomach n xray takes pics well anyway my results came back negative but i still have a gut feeling something cancerous there. I have hemetoma now thats hard as a rock since the biospy. I go tomorrow for doc to get check
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Sep 5, 2016 @ 8:08 am
It is the same in the uk where we have healthcare free at point of use
I had mammograms and then core suction biopsy-followed by 2 more suction core biopsies
Now am going for open surgical biopsy
All because of tiny calcifications which may never become cancerous
My quality of life has gone- still in pain since 1st Aug
Have 2 metal pins in also
May never find cancer and am disfigured and lost quality of life for nothing
Wish I have never had mammograms
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Sep 7, 2016 @ 8:20 pm
I had a biopsy done under the ultra sound to guide the dr's to remove a sample and send off to test for cancer. When the results came back it showed pre-cancer cells in it but the surgeon I seen wants to wait and see what happens. Should I get a 2nd opinion and I have been having a lot of pain in my breast the runs up to my arm and hurts really bad. Any advice
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Nov 29, 2016 @ 1:13 pm
I had an excisional biopsy ok my left breast to take a small group mycrocalcifications. Now I know that I have a very small risk to have Cancer in those mamographic findings but the doctor did not do any recomendation about that so I had the biopsy. I feel sad now because with more information I would not do it. I have a scar in my breast that I have to look after now and a skin depression for nothing. The procedure left me a scar in my hart when I look in the mirror every day. If the doctors cant recomend any treatment based in their knowledgment and experience? Who can? Finally we loose as patients because they dont give you the full information just to do the procedure. Now make sens to me what my doctor said: my bussines is to make a surgery.
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Apr 19, 2017 @ 1:13 pm
My daughter had a core biopsy 5 weeks ago for a lump outer left breast . No pain or anything . Biopsy came back as stromal hyperplasia and was benign. Since the biopsy she gets like electric zaps when she stretches her arm on that side !! Is this normal ? Thanks for your advice
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Sep 7, 2017 @ 3:03 am
Yesterday I had a two fine needle biopsies (ecoguided) of a breast lump 24mmx14mm that both the doctor and radiologist believe is most likely to be malignant. After the procedure the radiologist confirmed the formation of a haematoma around the tumour site that was showing on the eco graph. I am worried that cancer cells may be contained in the blood in the haematoma and these will spread into my lymph glands or tracts. The wait time for lab results is 14-21 days. Do you think I should be concerned and press for quicker results to allow a quicker lumpectomy if the results are positive? Thank you for your advice.

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